"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." - Julia Child

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Date night pork chops

Valentine's Day! A perfect excuse to eat extremely decadent food and more chocolate than anyone should consume in a 24-hour period. This Valentine's, I made chocolate chip pancakes using heart-shaped pancake molds, and also some thick-cut bacon. Jeremy took me to the New England Aquarium to visit the penguins. Then we made a lovely dinner of pork chops and braised endive with ham.

Pork chops! When I was growing up, my mother—ordinarily a good cook—absolutely butchered pork chops, turning them into thin, tough, gray things with a greasy brown sauce. So I grew up hating pork chops. Now I realize that it's because the pork she used was too lean, and the chops were too thin, and she probably overcooked the hell out of them, which many people tend to do with pork. In fact, pork is safe to eat when it reaches about 150 degrees F, because any potential bacteria have long been killed off at this point and the meat will still be tender and moist. Mark Bittman does it again with his recipe for sauteed pork chops, which includes 8 variations. We chose the garlic sherry chops and they were scrumptious!

When choosing chops, definitely get thick-cut chops that are about an inch thick. These will cook better and are far more satisfying than thin ones, which get tough and overcooked. Also make sure to select center-cut loin chops; avoid shoulder or blade chops and loin-end chops.

Let the chops come to room temperature (about 20 minutes or so), then trim them of excess fat. You will want to leave a thin layer of the fat around the edges, but sometimes it's a bit thicker in spots, so you can trim that away before cooking. This recipe is for 4 chops, but you can just as easily make two. It's flavorful, delicious, and pretty easy—a perfect meal to impress company or a significant other.

Mark Bittman's garlic-sherry pork chops

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine (we used some chardonnay)
1 tsp minced garlic or 2 tbsps minced shallot, onion, or scallion (we used scallion)
1/2 cup chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, or water, plus more if needed

For finishing the sauce:
1/2 cup not-too-dry sherry (we used oloroso)
1 tbsp additional olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Sprinkle the chops with salt and pepper. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat for 2 or 3 minutes, then add 2 tbsps olive oil. As soon as the first wisps of smoke appear, add the chops and turn the heat to high. Be careful, as there will be some splattering. (A splatter screen will come in handy here.) Brown the chops on both sides, moving them around with tongs so they develop good color all over. This whole browning process shouldn't take too long, perhaps 4 minutes but preferably less. (If the pan splatters too much while you're browning, turn the heat down just a bit, but it should remain pretty high.)

Reduce the heat to medium. Carefully add the wine and garlic or onions and cook, turning the chops once or twice, until the wine is mostly evaporated, about 3 minutes. (Oh, the smell! Cooking wine with aromatics = scrumptious perfume!) Add 1/2 cup of stock or water, turn the heat to low, give everything a good stir, and cover. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, turning the chops once or twice, until they are tender but not dry. When they are done, they will be firm to the touch, their juices will run slightly pink, and the interior color will be rosy at first but will turn pale quickly. (Cut into one if you're at all unsure, or use a meat thermometer to make sure they're 150 degrees F. We tried to use mine, but it appears to have broken after just one use. Awesome.)

Remove the chops to a platter and let them rest. Add 1/2 cup of sherry and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the liquid is reduced slightly. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp minced garlic and continue to cook until the sauce thickens and becomes a bit syrupy. Add the juice of half a lemon, and a quarter cup of minced parsley (we didn't have this on hand and it was just fine without it). Taste for seasoning and pour some sauce over each chop. Revel in the deliciousness! 

I'll add the recipe for endive soon. But definitely try these chops. They are easy and delicious, and we're definitely going to have them again soon, perhaps trying one of the variations in the book.

Here are the pork chops with the braised endive and ham. NOMS.

For dessert, we each had one of Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Brownies. I am not a big fan of baking mixes, but TJ's does have excellent brownies and they're probably the only brownie mix I'd ever use. But I had to get the Reduced Guilt ones because you can make them individually with yogurt. Just add 2 tbsps of mix to 1 tbsp of low-fat or fat-free vanilla yogurt and stir in a small microwaveable container (RAMEKINS to the rescue) for 45 seconds. For being reduced guilt, they are really quite good! They remind me of those Betty Crocker Warm Delights desserts, only delicious instead of craptastic.