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
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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 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.
- 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
- Season the pork chops with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours.
- 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.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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