Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Pan-Fried Pork Chop Attitude

From time to time, my boyfriend has to remind me that I am a Joe Strummer kind of punk, and not the Sid Vicious type. For those who don’t know punk much, those two guys are so often used as polar opposites that it’s almost a running joke. Strummer was the optimist/activist “the world sucks, so let’s work together to change it!” guy, and Vicious was the nihilist, self-destructive junkie who thought the world sucked so much the only thing he could do was try to destroy it (and he ended up killing himself in the process).

Joe Strummer is my hero, and I love him so much that I actually have his portrait tattooed on my arm.

But when I run into an obstacle that makes me feel like saying “fuck this shit!”, I sometimes need to be reminded that Joe would not have given his problems the finger and walked away: he would have figured out a way to solve things. If I get a bit too Sid Vicious about something, my boyfriend pokes my Joe Strummer tattoo. It makes me grump, but I do get proactive after that little reminder.

One of the obstacles I ran into on my culinary adventures is something I would never have thought to be defeated by: pork chops (yes, I like to wax deeply philosophical just to start talking about ridiculously mundane things). My first attempt involved a honey-mustard sauce that ended up too salty because of an excess of chicken broth. The second attempt was a glazing that turned into carbonized caramel and made the chops virtually uneatable.

I wasn’t exactly excited about giving pork chops another shot; in fact, I got very close to flipping them the bird and moving on. But being defeated by chops would have been really pathetic and sad, so I ended up trying again. Figuring I had aimed a bit too high by attempting a glazing, I decided to find an extremely simple, bare-bones - but not boring - way of cooking some chops.

I like to get basic family cookbooks from time to time, because even if you have a million of those, there is always a little trick that you didn’t know hidden in those pages. Deborah Anzinger wrote a really cute book called “Cook”, and even if I am not part of her target audience (the book is definitely aimed at working parents), I liked it. It contains a few uber-basic recipes I had never tried, demystified and simple enough that they could be customized and played with to my heart’s content. It was in that book’s pages that I found a very easy pan-fried pork chop recipe that seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

I love maple syrup (I am not Canadian for nothing, after all), I love balsamic vinegar and I love hot sauce. Would I still love them once they were all mixed together? Well, yes I did! Sweet, tangy and spicy. How can that be wrong, I ask you?

In fact, I love the sauce so much that it became a go-to sauce. If chicken fingers or popcorn chicken are something you like, you simply have to try this sauce! But without further ado, here is the complete recipe:

4 boneless pork chops, about 3/4-inch thick
Sea salt and ground pepper
Olive oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 to 3 teaspoons hot sauce (to taste; I used my beloved Sri Racha sauce and it worked beautifully)

Nick the edges of the meat to prevent it from curling during the frying, and sprinkle the chops with sea salt and ground pepper, to taste. Mix the maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and hot sauce together in a small bowl. Taste and adjust the hot sauce until the mixture has the desired kick.

Preheat a glug of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Lay the chops flat in the pan and cook until slightly golden, about 3 minutes. Flip the chops and fry for another 3 minutes.

Pour in the sauce and turn the chops over, to coat. Cover the frying pan and cook for another 2 minutes, until the meat is cooked through, and the sauce lightly caramelized and glazing the chops.

These chops are delicious with rice and vegetables, but if it's Friday and you want to treat yourself, sweet potato fries or mash are definitely winning sides!

Adjust the cooking time according to how thick your pork chops are: the thicker they are, the longer they need to cook! But the whole thing takes 10 minutes tops to put on the table, which makes it very practical as a weeknight dinner idea.

You can substitute the pork for scalloped chicken breasts (try breading them like I did with my Parmesan chicken cutlets...), and I am pretty sure this sauce will be amazing on grilled tofu! That's a must-try for me in the near future... You can also use plum sauce instead of maple syrup, to give your dish a little Asian twist.

Can I just say I am so glad I did not give up on pork chops, even if they have previously frustrated me so freaking much. Instead of writing them off, I discovered a great quick-meal idea, and a tasty sauce I will use over and over again. Imagine all the deliciousness I would never have experienced if I had Sid Vicious-ed the whole deal...

I raise my glass to Joe (who would have turned 60 today!) for inspiring me to overcome even the silliest things in life.

By the way, here is my amazing tattoo-artist's online portfolio. She is the best!

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