Saturday, February 19, 2011

Recipe: Braised Pork Chops

A plateful of braised pork chops.
There's a little market down the street from us called Fresh and Easy.  I think it's run by the British grocery chain Tesco; the store sells healthy convenience food.  They have vegetables already washed and cut up in little bags that you can toss into the microwave, some decent pre-made things that you can heat up, like macaroni and cheese, and you can also get good bread and nice meat and cheese.

When stuff is approaching its sell-by date, they mark it way down, which is a big bonus.  We have a freezer full of bread (too much, actually--we have to eat some before we buy any more) that we bought on sale.  Last night, we were dashing in there to pick up some broccoli to have with the chicken dish I had defrosted, and there were pork chops in the discount bin for 40 cents a pound.  Yup.  Forty cents!  So we bought a three-pound package (the smallest they had).  Now comes the fun part:  what do you do with three pounds of thin pork chops?  I figured that even if I didn't solve it, I could afford to throw away $1.20.

I figured that they would need to be braised.  They're so thin that trying to fry them would surely overcook them and make them tough--a problem I've mentioned before in regard to pork.  Here's what I did:

The potful of chops just before I added the mushrooms.
BRAISED PORK CHOPS  (Serves 4 - 6, or 2 who like leftovers...)

  • 8 thinly-sliced, bone-in loin pork chops, about 3 lbs.
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • a couple of handfuls of fresh rosemary (we have some growing outside the kitchen door), roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup dry red wine (I used cabernet sauvignon)
  • 1 26-oz. package of chopped Italian tomatoes with their juice (I like Pomi, which comes in a 750-gram box--that's the right amount)
  • 1 - 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 lb. small brown mushrooms, like Baby Bella, halved or thickly sliced
  • juice of a medium lemon

1.  Preheat the oven to 350* F.

2.  Salt and pepper the chops on both sides.  Brown them briefly in  a little olive oil over high heat--just enough to sear the outside--a couple at a time in a large skillet.  As each chop finishes browning, transfer it to a Dutch oven.

3.  Once all the chops are browned, turn down the heat under the skillet, add a little more olive oil, and saute the onion and about half the rosemary until the onions are slightly browned.  Add the garlic and saute a minute or so more.  Turn up the heat, and add the wine to the pan to deglaze it.  After it bubbles a minute or two, dump everything from the skillet over the chops in the Dutch oven.

4.  Add the tomatoes to the pot, and pour in enough broth to make a good sauce that covers everything.  Give everything a good stir--more like a scramble, really--to be sure that all the chops are coated with sauce.  Set the pot on top of the stove on medium-high heat and bring it to a low boil.  Add the chopped mushrooms and the rest of the rosemary. (I didn't saute the mushrooms first, but you could if you wanted to.  In that case, I'd add them at the end.)  

5.  Bake in the oven 30 - 45 minutes until the chops are tender (I think it would be hard to overcook this; just let the chops get nice and soft--almost falling apart).  Remove the chops to a platter, place the pot over high heat, and let the sauce reduce for 5 -10 minutes on top of the stove, until it is nicely thickened.  Add the fresh lemon juice, and give it a stir.  Spoon the sauce over the chops in the platter, and garnish with some fresh rosemary sprigs if you'd like to dress it up a bit.

6.  Enjoy!  You could have this with some pasta, rice, or polenta if you want.  Orzo or couscous would also be good (I like couscous because it's so fast). We're going low carb these days, so we just had a little bread (some discounted rosemary focaccia rolls from Fresh and Easy) and some sauteed chard on the side.

Some thoughts for when I make this again (and I will make it again--it was yummy):  pitted kalamata olives would be a nice addition.  It would be possible to dredge the chops in flour before browning them:  this would make a thicker sauce.  I baked these for about half an hour, and they were certainly done, but they could as easily have gone longer. I think you could use a similar process with a sturdy cut of beef, like round steak.

I don't really think of myself as the kind of cook who invents dishes; most of my cooking is just following recipes. But with something as inexpensive as those chops, it seemed OK to take a risk: the stakes were so low (get it?). And it turned out rather well. Good enough, in fact, that I'd even make it with full-priced chops, and that's saying something.

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