Wednesday, May 16, 2007

best thing i've eaten this week - pork chops

i am currently the kind of tired where my eye sockets are burning. wile was up at 5 this morning, carrying on, and we ended up downstairs making toast at 5:30. he, with that wise toddler intuition, asked to watch bob the builder after he ate his toast, so i got some sleep on the couch for a couple of hours (two bob episodes, one firetruck dvd, and some playing with his wooden food that i only know about because i woke up with wooden carrots and bread and apple slices strewn about my head), but it wasn't the good kind of sleep, it was the kind of sleep where i woke up feeling more exhausted than when i started. and now wile is napping, and i should be too, but i can't fall alseep. so, let's talk about food.

my favorite meal this week was the one i made on sunday night. yes, i made dinner on mother's day. the horror! except not, because 1) i like to cook, 2) stephen took wile into the yard to play baseball so i got to cook alone, which is a rare and beautiful thing these days, 3) stephen did the dishes, 4) i knew what i wanted and if stephen had insisted on making it just because "it's mother's day and mothers don't cook on mother's day" or some such nonsense, he would have had to ask me questions and checked in with me a bunch of times and it would have been not at all the "break" for me that it would seem, and 5) we had gone out to a great dinner the night before.

i made pork chops and a salad, which sounds pretty boring, no? except. i've discovered, thanks to cook's illustrated, the perfect way to cook pork chops. it's a little wacky, but you really honestly do end up with the juiciest pork chops ever. here's the deal:

take your pork chops (bone-in or bone-out, but bone-in is better; either way, try to get them at least 1" thick) and rub them all over with some vegetable oil, then salt and pepper them. on one side, sprinkle with a pinch of sugar. if there's a lot of fat on one edge, make a couple of cuts into it, just down to the meat, so that the chop doesn't curl up in the pan. then grab a non-stick pan and put it onto a cold burner. yes, cold. take the chops and put them in the pan sugar-side down, pressing them into the pan. (i've used two kinds of pans for this technique, a calphalon and a cast iron pan. with the calphalon, i found that i needed to put a little bit of oil into the pan, in addition to the oil that i rubbed on the chops, to keep then from sticking totally. with the cast iron pan, not so much. so, see how it goes with your pan.) turn the heat on under the pan to medium high, and don't go far away. the chops should start sizzling within 2 minutes; if they don't, turn the heat up. let them cook for somewhere between 2-1/2 and 7 minutes, until they're browned on the one side (that's why you put the sugar on, to help with the browning). then turn them over, turn the heat down to low, cover the pan, and find your meat thermometer. i usually start checking them after about 3 minutes, 2 minutes if they're on the thinner side—you want them to come up to 140˚ in the center. this could take up to 10 minutes, depending on your pan, what "low" means on your stove, the meat itself, etc etc. when they've reached temp, take them out and throw them on a plate, tented with aluminum foil.

then make a sauce in the pan. my favorite thing to do is saute some shallots in the residual pork fat, then throw in some brandy, let it cook down, and finish it with a tablespoon or so of butter. i've also made a good one with just a 1/2 cup of vegetable broth and a couple of teaspoons of mustard, boiled down a little bit. last night i wanted the brandy sauce but we were out of brandy and shallots, so i used some slices of garlic and medium-dry sherry instead, and it was delicious. when the sauce is made, turn off the heat and throw the chops back in the pan for a second the coat with the sauce and warm them up, and serve.

and for our salad, we had some baby swiss chard that i got from the crazy hydroponic organic people at the farmer's market. it was really tender but a little bit bitter, so i made a honey vinaigrette (1t honey, 1t mustard, 1t white vinegar, 1/3 cup walnut oil) to go with it. it was a great salad, much more interesting than any lettuce, but the best thing about it, and the reason that this was my favorite meal of last week, was that wile ate 7 helpings of it. he went to bed 45 minutes late becaue he kept asking for more salad, and there was no way in hell i was going to say no.