Sunday, May 24, 2020

I Was Missing Pork Chops

     I grew up in a house where pork chops showed up for dinner with some regularity (not to mention the occasional slow-cooked-all-day pork roast with vegetables).  I like them and don't have them very often these days.  Tamara's not a fan, correctly pointing out that pork chops in general are often dry, grainy and short on flavor.

     My Mom's were not; she had a sure hand in the kitchen and with no more than salt, pepper and a 1949 RevereWare copper-bottomed skillet,* turned out delicious, moist pork chops.  (There's probably a clue in that she rarely bought the boneless ones and made sure to leave all the fat on.)

     Lacking that level of skill, I cheated.  I have a nice, deep non-stick pan that straddles the line between frying pan† and saucepan.  That mandates boneless pork chops -- but the lid is clear high-temperature glass, so I can see what's going on while keeping them covered.

     A covered pan alone is not enough.  So, what's good with pork?  Shishito peppers pair well, and maybe a quick soy sauce marinade, but that's not enough.  I had a Pink Lady apple, too -- I like apples but I don't always eat them before they go soft.  Apples are a natural pairing with pork.  But the dish needed something else to pull it together.

     Last week, during my once-a-week grocery shopping trip,‡ I had picked up an interesting-looking spice mixture at the butcher counter.  It was labelled "togarashi" but it turns out that it's really shichi-mi tōgarashi or nana-iro tōgarashi, two ways to call it "seven-ingredient chili powder" and apparently it's about as common in japan as plain old spice-mix chili powder is here.  The kind the store sells has ground red dried chilies, Japanese pepper, roasted orange peel, poppyseed, a bit of ground dried seaweed (nori) and black and white sesame seeds.  I'd already tried it on eggs (after tasting it by itself) and it's good stuff.

     I sprinkled a teaspoon or two on the chops, gave it a little while to get absorbed, added maybe a whole tablespoon of soy sauce over them,  and let the pork chops sit in it.  I only gave it five minutes -- longer would be better, but I was hungry.

     Spent the marinating time washing and slicing the apple into wedges about 1/8" thick and then cut those into small wedges.  I peeled most of slices but that's a matter of taste; the peel I left on cooked right up and it does add a note to the flavor.  (I had planned to add a few shavings of pickled ginger, but forgot.  On the list for next time!)

     Just a tiny dollop of bacon fat in the pan, and I added the chops when it was melted, then splashed a little more soy sauce on them.

     While the chops were browning, I washed a generous handful of shishito peppers, slicing two of them into small sections but leaving the remainder whole.  They are small, thin-skinned peppers with a lot of flavor and are usually cooked whole; you eat everything but the stem.

     Flipped the chops and added about half the apples; when I was happy that the down side was browned, I turned them over, added the sliced peppers and the rest of the apples, and put the cover on.

     From there on, I cooked them for ten minutes a side and kept adding whole shishito peppers (I should have taken the cooked ones out, as the flavor gets cooked right out of them -- and into whatever you're cooking with them.)  I used a meat thermometer to determine doneness.  It was something over 25 minutes, the apple was cooked down very soft, and the smell was....wonderful!

     The finished chops looked good and were moist and flavorful.  Even Tam liked them (or at least found them acceptable).  The cooked-down apple, soy sauce, spice mix and sliced peppers made a wonderful kind of gravy and the whole peppers were a nice accompaniment.  (We also had steamed broccoli with Italian seasoning and Parmesan cheese.)

     Things to try next time?  Definitely the ginger.  Definitely another apple or possible a pear, one of the harder varieties like a Bosc.  The togarashi is mild enough that I could add some more of it, too.
* Good luck finding a new one -- I think they're all aluminum-bottomed now, when you find them.  All stainless steel except for the heat-conducting bottoms and black handles.  I have several pieces of Mom's 1949 set, supplemented with more of the same that Dad bought for her fifty years later.  While you can tell the old ones from the new, it's not by the cooking surface: the handle material is duller and the markings are just about worn off the bottoms of the older pans.  A quick check shows used sets and individual pieces commanding remarkable prices.  There's a reason for that.

† Is it a Midwesternism?  A Hoosierism?  "Frying pan" and "skillet" are exactly the same thing to me.  They are not necessarily synonyms to everyone, everywhere.

‡ That's a big change, as has been my doing any kind of weekly menu-planning.  Living in the city with a nearby almost-gourmet supermarket, I have long been in the habit of deciding what to make for dinner based on what looked good at the market during an almost daily stop on my way home.   I won't be doing that for awhile; Indianapolis has still got the highest per-capita infection rate in the state and I'm in no hurry to join.


Anonymous said...

That sounds delicious. I use water for shallow poaching in a covered skillet, the result being moister meat but even less taste. Seasoning is definitely required. Cut into strips against the grain, I eat the pork wrapped in a flour tortilla with some cheese and fried onion.

RandyGC said...

Tam's picture looked yummy

Growing up in Iowa, pork of many types was regular feature of meals at home and restaurant specials. CINCHOUSE is not a fan however so we don't do it much here.

I've actually stopped menu planning and am stopping by the store more often, as I never know what they are going to have on the shelves any particular day. That and quantity limitations means I need to swing by a couple of times a week to fill out the weekly dinner menus (which are built on what is available)

Jeffrey Smith said...

Re word usage

In my mom's kitchen there were two categories, although different sizes in each. There were pans and there were pots. Sometimes a big pan was called a frying pan, and sometimes a little pan was called a sauce pan. But I am willing to swear she never said the word skillet in my presence.

She grew up in Boston in the 30s and 40s.

Zendo Deb said...

Cast Iron does cook things differently than the stuff most people use today. Not sure if that was an issue. (And I was able to get a glass lid that fits - sort of - the cast iron.) The cast iron skillet I have is from the 1920s, or earlier. I have a friend that is convinced that level of seasoning makes a difference. (A new lodge pan requires a lot of work before I will even use it.)

In our general fear of everything, pork is usually cooked until it is dry and tough. I've found using a decent instant-read thermometer keeps that problem at bay. (I think I paid 20 or 25 bucks for mine.)

Paul said...

Have started using a Nu Wave Air Fryer. makes good chops. Fat on Bone out. Nice and juicy. Just get the amazon cook book or be a good guess on times to cook stuff.

Roberta X said...

(Mistakenly deleted)

fillyjonk has left a new comment on your post "I Was Missing Pork Chops":

1. My mother (age 84) swears that pork is "worse" than it was 40 or more years ago because hogs have been bred to be lean. There may be something to that; though perhaps the trend in some locations of small producers raising "heirloom" hogs means you can still get proper pork. (Some older recipes seem too dry, for example, and I suspect it's modern differences in the meat)

2. I hear you on the supermarket thing. I've been doing a lot of substituting ingredients or just throwing my hands up in frustration and making something different because it no longer seems prudent to run out to the grocery for one or two things. Even after this is over I suspect it's going to take a while to undo the psychological changes in me, where I feel comfortable entering a store without concern and an exhausting level of situational awareness ("Is anyone coughing? Where is everyone else with relation to me? Oh dang, why won't that person MOVE out of that narrow aisle so I can go down it to grab the thing I need")

I still go to the store once in a while (maybe once every 10 days), but I don't linger like I once did, and I can't make on-the-fly menu changes ("I feel like steak tonight, not chicken") like I once did. I suppose it's closer to living like my great-grandparents did, where they lived far from a store and only made biweekly trips, and other than that relied on the food they had dried or canned on their farm.

JayNola said...

I'll echo fillyjonk's point. Hogs have been bred to be leaner and so domestic pork from your childhood is different than today's pork.