Pork Chops with Sage Salt, Purple Potatoes and Cracklings

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Recently I needed to cook some pork chops for dinner. These are delicious thick ones from free-range pigs courtesy of the local Yonder Way Farm. It was mid-week on a school night and I needed them to be cooked pretty quickly for dinner along with some fried rice. No time for sous vide-ing for an hour and searing and such. I seasoned them, heated up my wok outdoors with an inch or so of oil and shallow fried them for a few minutes on each side until perfectly cooked at 140 F in the center. Boy were they delicious! I’ve been cooking them with this method that ever since whenever I can.

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This particular dish and combination is from a Jamie Oliver recipe, a simple meat and potato dish. What makes it a bit more special is the sage salt rub, the cool potatoes and -if I may toot my own horn a bit- my method of wok cooking the chops. Oliver uses fresh bay leaves for the rub, but I had none and dried ones work very well. I ground up the bay leaves along with fennel seeds and salt in my spice grinder and rubbed that all over the chops.

As the chops sat getting all seasoned up, I prepared the purple potatoes. These are really cool looking tubers. They honestly do not taste much different than your average Russet potato, maybe a tad sweeter. They do have a great color and pattern when raw and make for a purplish blue mash.

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I first boiled them until soft along with some garlic. Judging by the color of the water at the end,  I’m thinking next time I will steam them and see if I can retain more of the color. In the meantime, I rendered several pieces of pork fat taken from the edges of the chops. I used a cast iron skillet in the oven to do that. There was a good 3 tablespoons or so of rendered pork fat at the end along with crispy pork cracklings. When the potatoes where done, I tossed them in the hot pan with the fat along with a pinch of salt and roasted them until browned and crispy. Towards the end I gently smashed them up to get soft potato mixed in with the crispy surfaces.

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Cooking the chops in the wok takes maybe 10 minutes or so. I heat up the wok over a medium-high heat. I use my outdoor propane burner (turkey fryer kit) for all frying, deep frying and stir frying. I add about an inch of oil in the wok bottom and add the chops with one in the center and the remaining around it and up the wok “wall”. After a couple minutes I move them around so that another chop is in the middle and so on. I flip them over and do the same thing. After resting for a few minutes, the chops are good to go.

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For the sauce, I sauteed a little chopped shallots and added hard apple cider. After the mixture reduced I added a spoon of grainy mustard and chicken stock. I allowed that to reduce and stirred in chunks of butter. I plated the chops over the potatoes, added a few pieces of the crispy cracklings and a dollop of creme fraiche.

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Under Pressure: Fried Pig Tail, Deviled Quail Egg, Beans and Sauce Ravigote

 

Making something delicious out of “scraps” is one of the pleasures of cooking. It’s simple to make a piece of steak or a chop appetizing, but transforming an admittedly ugly-looking piece of pig – a tail in this case- into a dish worthy of a classy fine dining restaurant needs technique and some creativity. So, when a friend of mine gave me a couple of tails from two fat farm raised pigs, I turned to Thomas Keller for guidance. The tails can be just boiled and fried and they will be good, but I knew no one else in my household would eat them. I needed to transform those tails to a very appetizing and fun dish. Keller’s recipe in Under Pressure does exactly that.

First I dealt with the tails. These were not just the tails, but also some meat and fat attached to them from the top of the pig’s back. So I knew I can have more than just two servings from the two tails by using some of that meat. Raw, the tails and their attached meat/skin/fat looked like small sting rays. The tails were bagged in FoodSaver bags with a mixture of chicken stock, herbs, white wine, onions and carrots. I cooked them at 85C (185 F) for about 10 hours. At the end of the cooking time, the tails were very tender (both meat and skin). The tails can be cooked in a pot with a larger amount of liquid of course. However, cooking the tails sous vide at a perfectly controlled temperature guarantees that while the meat and skin gets thoroughly cooked, the skin does not rip or crack. This is very important for the next step. Additionally you do  not get too much flavor loss to the surrounding liquid because in the bags the tails are surrounded by a relatively small amount of liquid and lots of aromatics.

While the pig tails are still very warm, they need to be deboned. It is much easier than it sounds and so worth it because, picking at tiny tail bones in a plated dish like this is not a fun experience. Besides, my little touch to the Keller dish, this way we can stuff the tails! I used a very sharp paring knife and slit the tails lengthwise. I then opened them like a book and removed the bones in one piece. It was very easy and the skin remained intact. The idea is to then season and reform the tails, now boneless, into neat rolls. The concentrated cooking liquid from the bags can be used to moisten them and, due to its high collagen content, set them into perfect cylinders. Before doing all that, I shredded the meat from the extra tail “attachments” and chopped some of the skin very finely. That meat is juicy and collagen rich already, but I also moistened it with a little cooking liquid from the bags. I used some of that mixture to stuff into the boneless tails before tightly wrapping them with plastic wrap into rolls. With the rest of the meat mixture I made faux-tails. I just formed three rough cylinders and then used plastic wrap to make a tight neat roll with each of them giving me a total of five “tails” for dinner. After thoroughly chilling those rolls they were completely solidified and ready to fry up. Frying the tails is pretty straight forward. They get the classic flour, egg wash, fine panko crumbs treatment. Twice. Then they are fried till golden and crispy.

The rest of the dish is simple. For the eggs I boiled the quail eggs and mixed the yolks with creme fraiche, paprika and salt. The filling was then supposed to be piped back into the whites using a small bag with a start tip. unfortunately, the star tip that I have is too big for the little quail eggs. So I sacrificed a bit of the aesthetic and used a small plastic ziplock bag with no decorating tip. The eggs were delicious and I had to save 4 of them for the plating before my 4-year old stole and ate them all. At one bite each, he could’ve finished off a whole dozen. Keller specifies the flat Romano beans for this dish. I can never find those. So I used regular green beans. I blanched them and sliced them very thinly on a bias. The beans get tossed with a shallot vinaigrette. I also needed a little frisee for plating but did not find any at my local store and did not have the time to go shopping for it. I used some spring greens instead. These were tossed with a simple vinaigrette as well.

Last but not least, I made a ravigote sauce. It’s made with Dijon mustard, olive oil, white wine vinegar, shallots, salt and pepper. Everyone loved this dish. Granted, the kids ate mostly the “faux tails” but my 7-year old, seemed to get a kick out of knowing that he was eating pig tails. It sure made me proud. It really worked out very well and looked great. The  delicious rich, unctuous and very porky meat went perfectly with the tart flavors of the sauce. The skin was very tender and contrasted great with the meat inside and the crispy panko crumb shell encasing it. The beans added more sharp tastes and a great vegetable crunch. The eggs acted more of a tasty garnish and I ate mine before the rest fo the components.