Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bierstube Pork Chops

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...Years ago there was a hideaway about a block from the steel mills in South Chicago. I'm speaking now of a time before we knew of women's liberation or political correctness, so I hope no one will be offended when I recount the place was called Fat Helens. Ironically, Helen was a tall, thin woman of Eastern European extraction. She ran the place with an iron fist, an even stronger will and a bouncer kept at the door to prevent any on her hit list from getting to the bar. You'd probably call it a tavern, but Helen also served food - some of the best in the city. Portions were huge. This was the local watering hole for millworkers and their families. They were a tightly knit community and folks were married and mourned in the huge room behind the restaurant. On weekends the place became a social club. Beer was served in huge steins and boiler makers seemed, always, to be the drink of the day. Regulars put their drinks on a running tab, important in those days before we even dreamed of credit cards. I saw my first real fight here, but, more importantly, I had my first taste of Eastern European cooking at the communal tables behind the bar. Now, I suspect you're curious as to how I ended up in a beer hall behind the steel mills. My mother sure was until we took her to dinner one night. Bob and I were first taken to Helens by a friend who was a language instructor at the university. It was so different from anything in my experience that I was fascinated by the place. It would be fair to say our first visit was borne of curiosity. All others, however, were triggered by the food. We also had the good fortune to attend an Oktoberfest at Helens. It remains the standard by which we judge such celebrations. Bierstube pork is an original recipe based on flavors and memories from long ago. The chops are easy to do, but they are brined prior to cooking so you'll need 6 to 8 hours of lead time. I serve these with caraway noodles and Ina Garten's Sauteed Cabbage. If you like hearty well-flavored food I think you'll like these pork chops.

Bierstube Pork Chops
...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite

1 (12-oz.) bottle non-alcoholic amber ale (see Cooks Note Below)
1-1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
4 bone-in pork chops, 1-1/4-inch thick
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 slices thick cut bacon, diced
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons freshly chopped Italian parsley

1) To make brine: Combine beer, water, salt, brown sugar, vinegar, caraway seeds and pepper in a large bowl. Stir until sugar dissolves. Pour brine into a 1-gallon plastic bag with a zip lock. Add chops and refrigerate for 6 to 24 hours.
2) Remove chops from brine, reserving brine. Pour brine into a 2-quart saucepan and boil 5 minutes to reduce by half. Set aside. Pat chops dry. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour, shake off excess. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add bacon and cook until crisp. Remove bacon and drain on paper toweling. Add chops and sear over medium-high heat, turning once, until both sides are brown, about 3 minutes perside. Transfer to a plate.
3) Add onions to skillet chops cooked in. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup reserved brine and simmer, scraping bottom of pan, until liquid is reduced to 1/4 cup. Add 1/2 cup water and capers. Return chops and bacon to pan, setting them among onions. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, cover pan and cook, at a simmer, for about 6 minutes. Turn chops, cook, covered for another 4 to 5 minutes, or until chops are firm to touch and barely pink inside (meat thermometer should read 145 to 155 degrees F.).
5) Transfer chops to a serving plate. Tent with foil. Add sour cream to pan liquid and simmer (do not boil) until sauce coats a spoon, about 2 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve chops topped with sauce and sprinkled with parsley. Yield: 4 servings.

Cook' Note: Any beer can be used, but non-alcoholic beers impart flavor without bitterness. I use O'Doul's amber ale.


surfingtheworldcuisine said...

Looks very delicious!!! I can almost feel caramelised onion flavour!!! And I really liked the story before the receipe!

Jane said...

These sound delicious. I look forward to trying them soon.

I loved your memories of the tavern...and Fat Helen. You words took me there with you...Thank you for sharing them.
Jane (Artfully Graced)

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

What a fun story. I well remember the days before political correctness. That's one fine looking pork chop too and it's only breakfast time here.

Kat said...

Wow, this sounds wonderful! If the heat ever breaks (for more than a day at a time) I'm definitely trying this for a hearty autumn dinner. Kathy

Hootin Anni said...

What can I say that wouldn't sound like I'm continually repeating myself regarding your recipes?....well, to BE redundant.....this looks and sounds scrumptious!!!

Sorry, it's taken me a while to return your visit We've been busy getting our home decorated for Halloween. Hope your week is treating you well so far. [PS...LOVE! your blue monday photo also!]

Martha said...

Mary, as always the recipe looks good . . . and such a great story! A great dish now that the weather has cooled off!

Inspired by eRecipeCards said...

I love your stories. I grew up near Peoria, Il. My dad was a HUGE union guy. Anytime some plant would go on strike, he was the guy that would load up a truck with donated food and head to the union hall. We ate at lots of dives like you describe, and were treated like kings. Your story reminded me of those great meals, and an introduction to interesting foods... Thanks for this

Jersey Girl Cooks said...

What a delicious looking dish. And you always have a good story behind every recipe.

Cathy said...

My idea of comfort food, Mary. The sauce sounds delicious.

Joy Tilton said...

My husband will say "Thank You!" This is so Octoberfest good!

Foley said...

So, you hung out in beer halls begind steel mills!! lol It's going to be interesting to hear what else you have done!!

The chops sound wonderful, I can imagine the tenderness of them especially with bone-in chops!

Karen said...

I just love your stories of days past and they always tie in with your recipe just right. I love the sour cream in the sauce for these chops. Very nice!

Mary Bergfeld said...

How about that Foley :-). I'll bet you never thought I had it in me. Life's a banquet...enjoy!

The Blonde Duck said...

That sounds like a great place. And maybe it was called Fat Helen's because if you ate there enough, that's what happened!

Katherine Roberts Aucoin said...

What a tasty looking dish Mary with a great story to boot!. This sounds perfect for the cooler evenings ahead. I would like to try this out on my family.

NKP said...

I do love bold flavours - this is a great dish!
(I don't know that my Irish roots will allow me to buy non-alcoholic beer though, I might have to risk the bitterness!) ;-)

Alyssa said...

Sounds wonderful, and looks great, too. We just had a Kaese Spaetzle last night that I think would be a great side for this. We've often found some of the best food by following the locals to those watering holes!

JanVan said...

Great story. Total respect for those steel mill workers who built America which is more than I can say for our over abundance of service sector workers and government workers. They worked hard, drank hard and ate big. All that heavy food got worked off

I've read accounts of guys who drank a case a day and it got sweated off in the mill

Mary Bergfeld said...

JanVan, welcome to One Perfect Bite. I hope you'll give some consideration to joining us on a regular basis. You're always welcome here.

lk - healthy delicious said...

pork, beer, and bacon? sign me up!!

JanVan said...

Thanks much Mary. I also liked your Octoberfest photos and story of
Wednesday, September 16, 2009. Your posts are not mere recipes! I made split pea soup on Sunday.... I will come back and try to comment on the food

Katy ~ said...

What a terrific food memory. I can always hear the din and the aromas as you write.

The Old Parsonage said...

Mmmm...they sound wonderful. DH always complains that my chops are dry.

I love to do a fried cabbage with onions when I serve my chops too!

Thanks for stopping by!

The Chef In My Head said...

Looks wonderful I look forward to trying this soon. I love your photography, what's your secret? If you get a chance,come visit me sometime at The Chef in My Head. I'm serious about your photography, it's beautiful!

My Little Space said...

The ingredients look so tasty! It's a wonderful combo.

Kathleen said...

The pork chops sound delicious! And the sauce heavenly!

I went to college in an area where the steel mills and coal mines put the food on the table.( near Pittsburgh)

Good, hard working , kind people. Many of my classmates father's worked there.
After college I went back for many weddings held in church halls..the cooking done by the relatives. Very different from how we do it here in NY, but some of the best food I have ever had..made with love..
And the best Italian restaurants I have ever been to were small, usually in a converted home in a little Ohio town. Everything was fresh and homemade...

Maria Berg said...

Very interesting to read a story behind your cooking.

I like that they called it Kivi since they do not fly any more...LOL
I have been working in New Zealand so I have seen the Kivis.

Now I am off to read about the apple...
I really hope that you have a wonderful day tomorrow an that you will taste some really good food.

Love Maria Berg

Deb in Hawaii said...

Great idea with the non-alcoholic beer. Beautiful pork chops! They look hearty and delicious.

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