HIGH ON THE HOG – PAN-SEARED PORK CHOPS WITH GRAPES AND LEMON

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Last week we ate low on the hog, flavoring a polenta and squash dish with a bit of pancetta.  This week we’re stepping up our pork game, way up, with Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Grapes and Lemon. Fatty pork is once again becoming available for those without restaurants or the price of airfare to Italy.  Real pork chops–as versus the pink things wrapped in plastic in most supermarkets–are uncomplicated to cook, and delicious to eat.  Personally speaking, this recipe marks a turning point for me, a return to cooking chops at home after a 20-year hiatus.  Somebody cast a spell on this country’s pigs a couple of decades ago, morphing their chops and loins into a tough, flavorless substance called “the other white meat.”  If your experience with pork has been barbecue or bacon, then you owe it to yourself to get down to a farmers market to suss out some chops from heritage breeds of pork and taste the real deal.

At my local farmers market there are now two vendors offering their own old-school (read fatty) pork chops.  Copicut Farms and Stillman’s both sell pork from either heritage Berkshire or Tamsworth pigs.  We bought the chops you see here from Stillman’s  and I want you to notice the fat marbling through the meat of the raw chop in the photo below.  Intramuscular fat = juiciness and flavor.  To be honest, I don’t know how many people have tasted a real pork chop.  Most American consumers lead a bi-porker existence, consuming both bacon and lean pork tenderloin fairly often.  But real pork chops are a special occasion treat in our house, both because of the fat and the expense.  We can’t be bothered with lean pork, we keep the bacon where it belongs–on our weekend breakfast plates–and indulge in real pork chops once every blue moon.  But when they arrive, we want them fatty, whether fancied up with a pan sauce, or just an Italian squeeze of lemon.  Enjoy.  Ken

BLOG HACK ALERT: This past week I noticed that with each new person signing up to our blog I received a notice from WordPress that “[insert name of new subscriber] subscribed to your blog, [insert name of interloper blog that was definitely NOT The Garum Factory]”.  I also found that I had been unknowingly subscribed to this same other blog.  I’m deliberately not identifying it because I don’t want to give it any publicity and it’s also possible that this other blog is an innocent victim as well.  If you recently subscribed to the Garum Factory, but find yourself receiving updates from a certain lonely hearts site, please resubscribe.  All of the new subscribers about whom I received the erroneous notice, are now subscribed to The Garum Factory.  If, on the other hand, you intended to subscribe to the other site, and now find yourself getting updates from us, just erase us from your subscription list.

SARDINIA: Jody and I will be on a biking/cooking trip to Sardinia with Ciclismo Classico this next week.  In addition to pedaling off our pork chops Jody will be teaching cooking classes and I’ll be taking photos.  We’ll be back with a new post in a week or two.  If I happen to stumble across any Casu Marzu, and live to photograph the tale, you’ll read about it here.  Ciao.

Pan-seared pork chops with grapes-0145

You can see the fat marbling through the meat, a good sign.

Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Grapes and Lemon

 

Usually I like putting my notes after the recipe, maybe offering a tip or explaining why I chose to do things one way and not another, but in this case I thought it might help to let you know what’s going on before you plunge in.  First the recipe demonstrates a great way to answer the age-old problem of how to cook a thick cut of meat so the inside is done and the outside isn’t charred.  You start by searing the meat on top of the stove in an ovenproof pan (I like cast iron) and then you throw the whole thing in the oven until the meat is done.  This is a tried and true restaurant technique and aside from grilling, I wouldn’t cook a Porterhouse and t-bone steak any other way.  The recipe also walks you through an easy pan sauce.  I cook the grapes separately and only combine everything at the very end.  If I’d cooked everything together, the grapes would have been falling apart by the time the sauce was sufficiently reduced.

Also, I like pork chops a little pink on the inside.  Trichinosis is no longer a problem in this country so I’m not concerned that I’m putting myself at risk, and with some pink remaining the pork is juicier.

Ingredients:

  • 4 naturally raised bone-in pork chops, 1-inch thick, about 10-11 ounces each
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons chopped sage
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
  • ½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 2 tablespoons rinsed capers
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1½ cups halved seedless red grapes
  • ½ teaspoon chopped rosemary

Directions:

  1. Season the pork chops with salt and freshly ground black pepper.   Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours.
  2. To make the marinade, mix the lemon zest, chopped sage, chopped garlic, crushed fennel seed and hot red pepper flakes and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil together in a large bowl. 
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  4. Heat a tablespoon of tablespoon oil in each of 2  large cast iron pans over medium heat-high.  Add the pork chops and sear on one side until golden brown, about 4 minutes.  Flip and  sear on the second side for  2 minutes.  Sear the edges as well if they are exceptionally fatty, like the chops in the photographs.  Remove the chops to a plate and smear marinade on both sides.  Set one pan aside – don’t clean it, we’ll need it with the fat in it later.  Use the other pan to hold the chops in the next step.
  5. Return all the chops to a single pan, balancing them on their sides, fat side up.  If they won’t balance, just angle them on their sides so they fit.  Put the pan into the oven and roast the chops until medium, about 8 minutes, or to desired doneness.  Transfer the cooked chops to a rack.  Spoon the cooked garlic and herbs from the pan you just used over the chops, avoiding excess fat.   Allow the meat to rest for at least 10 minutes while you finish the sauce.
  6. While the pork is resting, pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pan that didn’t go in the oven.  Add the shallots and cook until tender, about 3 minutes.  Add the capers, and lemon juice and cook 3 additional minutes.  Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil and reduce by one-third.  Remove from the heat.
  7. When you’re ready to serve, wipe out the pan that went into the oven with the pork and put it on a medium heat with 1 tablespoon butter.  As soon as the foam subsides, add the grapes and cook, without stirring, until they start to caramelize.  Stir in the rosemary and then pour the chicken stock mixture over the grapes.  Give everything a stir, then off the heat swirl in the remaining butter.  Pour the sauce over the chops.

 

Pork Chops with Grapes 2-1-2

Pork Chops with Grapes 3-1-2

Pork Chops with Grapes 2-2-2

Pork Chops with Grapes 3-2-2

 

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42 thoughts

  1. What a beautiful recipe, Jody and Ken, I’m definitely bookmarking it for one of these days; especially since pork chops cost practically nothing where I live, and are truly delicious (my “expensive-ish” butcher – who is the best butcher on Earth, which is why I am ready to spend a few extra euros in his shop – sells them for about 1.50 euros for two pretty thick pork chops). I usually make them with cider, apples, and cream, but this would be a lovely, seasonal change. Thanks for the recipe and buon viaggio!

    • Darya–That’s so funny. The reason I gave up cooking pork chops at home was because of what a dismal failure they were when I tried to do exactly what you just described. After searing them on both sides for a couple of minutes and then baking them for a few more with the apples and cream they were inedibly tough. Thanks–and see you when we get back! Ken

    • I’ll think you’ll be quite happy. Also, the last time I glanced at their product list I noticed that they also sell leaf lard, which makes an amazing pie crust (read: future blog post). If you’re still grilling you might also check out their lamb blade chops–they’re also a favorite of ours. Ken

    • Haha! I wondered if anyone would be intrigued enough to click on the link. I’m looking forward to it, as long as there’s plenty of the traditional accompaniment to wash it down, Cannnau di Sardegna. Ken

  2. I only get heritage pork – ordered online of course. I’m just lucky that we’re at the point in our lives where we can afford all of this fancy delivered meat. Because, unfortunately, it is extremely expensive. But there’s nothing like pink moist pork. A fabulous post. And I can’t wait for your casu marzu post!!!

    • HI, Mimi–I know what you mean. ACtually, if I were ever to sous-vide, pork might be one of the items I’d try. Fortunately we’re in the same position, in terms of our lives, but the blog notwithstanding, things like serious pork chops or steaks really are once in awhile treats. We tend to be much more pasta- and polenta-centric, with lots of vegetables and seafood. The casu marzu should be fun, assuming our guide can track some down. Purely optional for everyone else on the trip–who’ll probably want to attend just to see what happens to Jody and me. :-) Ken

      • The only pork I sous vide is pork loin. I comes out pink and I can eat it as is, almost like ham, although I’d probably sear it for company. Come to think of it, I don’t know anyone who would eat pink pork, so I probably wouldn’t ever serve it to company! so sad.

  3. So glad to see that the heritage breeds are making their way north! Certainly I’m not surprised that you guys know just what to do with those beautiful chops. And I hope Sardinia is grand! (As if there was any chance it wouldn’t be…)

    • You guys have been having all the porky fun for the last decade or so. Thank God the rest of us are starting to have a few options now. Of course, once you eat a great chop there’s no going back. :-) Ken

  4. What a delicious looking recipe. I’ve been thinking about cooking with grapes lately. I imagine over this or poultry with the rosemary it must be wonderful. Inspiration! Have a wonderful trip. I’m so jealous. Cooking classes and biking with a camera?? Sigh. We’re actually biking this weekend. So fun. Enjoy. Lol re lonely hearts website.

    • Leaving in a few hours. I’m taking a ton (read: way too much) gear to see if it makes a difference during cooking classes. The rest of the time I’ll just carry around my little fuji x100s. We’ll see. The lonely hearts website seems to have moved away, at least for the moment. Talk to you in a couple of weeks. Ken

  5. I so agree with you about pork. Growing up, I never liked pork because it was always so dry and tasteless. Yes!Chef! finds pork chops like you have once in a while and they are wonderful. He always mimics Julia Child when he says, “fat equals flavor!”. I will have to show him your delicious looking sauce.

    • These chops are great with the sauce, but if you can find fatty chops then they work great with just a squeeze of lemon too. Fat = flavor ought to be tattooed on the back of every cook’s hand. Ken

  6. My parents have a farm and I know the real taste of pork . Oh you’re so right about the quality of meat these days! That’s why I don’t buy it at all, never in a supermarket and only occasionally at the butcher’s. These pictures are fantastic, I couldn’t take my eyes off from these pork chops. How am I going to go to sleep now?! This recipe is definitely on my list :-)

  7. Well, after reading your post, I have decided to search out some heritage pork! I really love good pork and rarely eat it any more. I think you are right about the quality and flavour of most of the pork that is available to us now and I am thinking back on the pork we ate when I was growing up. My dad would go out the the farm and pick out the pig, and it would be butchered. It was so delicious! Your recipe is mouth-watering and I have bookmarked it for the moment that I find some heritage pork. Thanks so much for this wonderful post! :-)

    • Definitely worth the effort. It’s funny, people younger than us (Jody and I) are shocked when they taste a real chop. They just assume that pork chops are fairly dry, without much flavor. You’ve certainly got the right background for appreciating real pork. Ken

  8. HI Ken, love your blog and this recipe looks delicious. I went on a trip years ago with CC to Apulia. Boy, what a great way to see the country and did we eat some great food! Lauren and I have been friends for years and I actually bartered with her for the trip (I did the food for 2 very large events). I made my scientist husband clean 20 pounds of squid. It only took him half the day, but he did it with a smile on. Hope you have a great time.

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