Perfect dish for a small party

Entertaining

Entertaining: Seasoned mustard gives an extra touch to pork tenderloin slices.

March 05, 2000|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

During the winter months, I rarely plan large parties or open houses. Instead, I prefer to have small dinners for four to eight people. The reason for this is simple. Where we live in New England, winters can be harsh, and the best-laid plans must be put aside when heavy snows or icy storms come our way. For me, it's much easier to call a small group than to have to contact 30 or 40 friends when the weather plays havoc with my entertaining and events have to be canceled.

The past few days have brought snow, ice, sleet and sub-zero temperatures to our area, but I am hopeful that this weekend will be clear, so I am going to ask another couple to come for a casual supper at our house. In fact, I have already decided on a menu.

There will be a light cream of butternut squash and leek soup to start, followed by pan-grilled pork tenderloin topped with a tarragon-and-mustard-scented butter. Creamy polenta and a saute of baby spinach will be the accompaniments. For dessert, I am going to bake coconut macaroons to serve with a compote of winter fruits simmered in wine and spices.

I am especially pleased with the pork recipe, which I have been working on for several weeks. I got the idea for this main course when I tasted pork tenderloin roasted with herb butter at a small Left Bank restaurant called L'Epi Dupin on a recent trip to Paris.

My version is slightly different from the French one. I cut tenderloins into thick slices and salt and pepper them before grilling them on a stove-top grill. When done, the pork slices are topped with pats of softened butter seasoned with Dijon mustard, tarragon vinegar, fresh tarragon and parsley. The seasoned butter is the secret to the dish, for it infuses the meat with a delicious and robust flavor and also adds visual appeal.

For busy cooks, this is an ideal entree, since it takes only minutes to assemble the butter and to grill the meat. And, because this is such a quick and simple preparation, it's perfect to use when you are waiting to see if the weather is going to be cooperative before inviting friends for a last-minute supper.

Pan-Grilled Pork Tenderloin With Tarragon-Mustard Butter

Serves 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons tarragon vinegar

2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon, plus extra sprigs for garnish (see note)

2 teaspoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 pork tenderloins (14 to 16 ounces each), trimmed of excess fat

kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

Combine butter, mustard, vinegar, chopped tarragon and parsley in small mixing bowl and stir well to blend.

(Butter can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before using.)

Cut each tenderloin on slight diagonal into 3/4 -inch-thick slices. You should get 5 to 6 slices from each, with last slice from tail portion being thinner. Salt and pepper both sides of pork slices. Spray 1 large or 2 smaller stove-top grill pans with nonstick cooking spray and place over medium heat. (If you do not have grill pans, coat large heavy skillet with thin layer of oil and place over medium heat.)

When pan is hot, add pork slices and grill until meat is completely cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes per side. Flesh should be white when done. (The small slice cut from tail will cook more quickly. Remove when it is done.) Top each slice with generous pat of seasoned butter.

To serve, overlap pork slices on warm serving plate and garnish with several fresh tarragon sprigs. Serve immediately.

Note: Fresh tarragon looks attractive and provides delicious flavor in this dish. If you are unable to find this fresh herb, substitute 1 teaspoon dried tarragon and chop with 1 extra teaspoon fresh parsley.

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