Monday, December 8, 2008
Sicilian Pork Chops
From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...If I were to tell you that I'm a practicing Catholic, Quaker, Buddhist, some believers I know would roll their eyes, shake their heads and conclude, sotto voce, "perhaps, but she's not very good at any of them." Then Mrs. S, emerging from the clouds of Christmas past, would let you know - in tones not not so sotto voce - "I did the best I could with her ." And that, too, would be true. She walked me to Catechism classes until she was sure I could make the trek alone and twice a week would sit me at her kitchen table to make sure I'd done my homework. Her four boys - young men, still living at home - always called her Ma'am, so I thought it only proper I do the same. She seemed not to mind. Before the advent of today's exhaust fans, you could pretty much tell the ethnic background of a family by the aromas coming from their kitchen. Ma'am's kitchen was decidedly Italian and when you walked through the door you were enveloped by the smell of onion, garlic and oregano. She did nothing by halves; sauce was made in ten gallon containers and potatoes were cooked five pounds at a time. As I recited my catechism, I watched her work and absorbed information and techniques that, years later, would prove to be invaluable. It was a form of osmosis. She had no clear intent to teach and I had no intent to learn, but it happened anyway. Her home, at Christmas, was a revolving door of family, friends and neighbors. As I got older she shared her secrets for candied peel, panettone, cassata and pork dishes so good they'd make you weep. Ma'am kept track of me through the years. Just before Bob and I were married I had lunch with her and as we chatted she wanted me to know, "It's a shame you're not Italian, you'd be good for Salvatore." I had to laugh. Ma'am was a true believer in equality, a champion of civil rights, but she was never able to get her arms, or for that matter her head, around the idea her boys might marry someone not Italian. Today's pork chops, part of my permanent roster for more years than I care to admit, are based on Ma'am's Sicilian recipe. These are simple to do, but planning is required. The chops need to be brined before cooking. I do hope you'll try these. They are very, very nice, even in the hands of a non-Italian cook.
Sicilian Pork Chops...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite
1/4 cup kosher salt
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
2 bay leaves crumbled
4 boneless pork chops, 1-1/4 to 1-1/2-inches thick
1/4 cup flour for dredging
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine
1/2 teaspoon chicken bouillon granules
2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoon heavy cream or half-and-half
Garnish: chopped parsley or strips of lemon zest
1) To make brine: Combine salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add 1 cup hot water and stir until sugar dissolves. Add 3 cups cold water, thyme, pepper, sage and bay leaves. Whisk to combine. Pour into a resealable zip top bag; add pork chops and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours.
2) To make pork chops: Remove chops from bag and pat dry. Dredge them lightly in flour, shaking off any excess. Heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet. Add pork chops and cook over high heat, turning once until browned, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer chops to a plate. Sprinkle very lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside.
3) To cook onions: Add reserved 1 tablespoon butter and onions to pan. Cook until onion is just tender and lightly brown. Add vermouth, bouillon granules and 1/2 cup water. Boil until liquid is reduced to 1/4 cup, about 4 minutes. Stir in capers.
4) To complete pork: Return pork chops to skillet, placing them on top of onions. Reduce heat, cover pan, and simmer slowly for about 10 minutes. Turn chops and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, or until pork is firm to touch and a meat thermometer inserted in middle of chops registers 145 to 150 degrees. Transfer to a serving plate; tent with foil. Set aside.
5) To make sauce: Turn heat up to high. Add 1/4 cup water to skillet; bring to a boil. Add cream and boil to reduce liquid by about a half, or until liquid is of sauce consistency. Adjust seasoning if required. Spoon sauce over chops. Sprinkle with parsley or lemon zest strips. Yield: 4 servings.
Cook's Note: Chopped Sicilian olives may be used instead of capers.