Crispy Fried Pork Chops, Sweet Potatoes, Dark and Creamy Umame Gravy

DSCN4332I have been obsessed with frying things ever since I read SeriousEats.com’s tutorial on Korean Fried Chicken.  The technique they describe worked with chicken wings perfectly, so I wondered if I could do the same thing with other fryables.  It worked very nicely with shrimp – creating something of a tempura-type crackling coating – but how about something really substantial?  I mean, chicken wings are pretty small, and shrimp only get so big, too (to wit, at 4’10″ am I perpetually addressed as ‘shrimp’ or ‘shortie’, neither of which makes me particularly happy).  How’s about a meaty pork chop?  My days in the south exposed me to the wonders of a perfectly fried chop, coated with a buttermilk batter and pan fried, served usually with a white gravy and some collards.  I decided to work up my own version of a fried pork chop, using a simple flour/vodka slurry as the breading, some sweet potatoes and mushrooms as the complements, and my favorite soy sauce cream gravy (click here to see a variation on the theme).  The results were fantastic!

Crispy Fried Pork Chops, Sweet Potatoes, Dark and Creamy Umame Gravy

2 thick, center-cut pork chops
3/4 cups corn starch
1 tsp baking powder
black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup gin or vodka
vegetable oil for frying
EVOO
8-10 button mushrooms
2 medium sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
snipped scallions/chives for garnish

DSCN4305I love pork chops, especially when they look like little T-bone steaks, like these.  This cut includes both a little of the tenderloin as well as the regular rib meat, which provides some textural variety on the plate.

DSCN4307I start by mixing my cornstarch, baking powder, and some spices in a large ziplock bag.

DSCN4308In go my chops, and I shake the bag vigorously to coat them with the cornstarch mixture.

DSCN4310I place the chops uncovered in my fridge on a rack so they can dry out a bit — about 30 minutes.

DSCN4311Meanwhile, I remove the stems from my mushrooms, reserving them to use later.

DSCN4312I get 2 tbs of butter and a glug of EVOO nice and hot in my large fry-pan…

DSCN4314… and I layer my mushrooms in the hot fat, sprinkling them with a little salt and pepper.

DSCN4315I make sure they cook fully on top…

DSCN4317… and on bottom.

DSCN4319While these are simmering, I pull out my chops, on which the cornstarch/baking powder has gummed up a bit – just the way I want it.

DSCN4321In a large bowl, I’ve whisked my flour, water, and gin together to make a very thin batter.

DSCN4323Holding the chops with tongs by clipping it on the T-bone allows for me to dunk all the meaty bits into the slurry to thoroughly coat each piece.

DSCN4323aI add enough vegetable oil to a deep-sided pan to just cover the chops, and I bring this to a medium high temperature – about 350°F.  Of course, I don’t have a thermometer to help me gauge this, so I just drip a little flour batter into the pan periodically until the drop immediately sizzles and starts to brown upon hitting the surface of the oil.  It’s ready for my chops at that point.

DSCN4325I slide both chops carefully into the oil, making sure not to splatter myself like I usually do.  (Thank God for OxyClean, or just about all my clothes would have constellations of oil drips on them.)  Since these chops are thick, I let them fry for about 10 minutes on each side.

DSCN4329While this happens, I add my soy sauce and heavy cream to the mushrooms in the pan, which I bring to simmer on low heat, stirring regularly so the flavors can blend.

DSCN4325aWhen the chops are a nice golden brown on the bottom, it’s time to flip them carefully to the other side. Another 10 minutes or so will do it.

DSCN4326I’ve been baking my sweet potatoes all along, by the way.  After an hour on 350°, I can easily squeeze them with my oven-mitted fingers, so I pull them out…

DSCN4328… remove their bright orange insides to a bowl, where I mash them with my remaining butter.

DSCN4331These savory pork chops have a cracking, super-crunchy, egg-shell thin coating are super-tender and juicy.  The simple sweet mash is offset by a rich, dark, silky and fragrant soy cream gravy, and each button of mushroom bursts with flavor on the tongue.  Not only is this a very easy recipe, but it presents itself elegantly on the plate, and can satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.  Now, what else can I fry?

Slow Braised Lamb Leg with Goat Cheese Mashed Potato

After a miserably hot summer, August has proven to be quite mild this year – the other day dropping to the low 60′s.  Needless to say, I complained about the chill, which gave me a head  cold and has laid me up with the sniffles and whines.  But the cooler weather does mean I can use the kitchen more, whereas a few weeks ago even boiling water increased the ambient temperature in the apartment from unbearable to murderous.  It also means I hanker for more substantive meals – like tonight’s braised lamb leg and chevre infused mashed potatoes.  Hearty and stick-to-your-ribs, this rich, glorious, tender mutton was ideally paired with fluffy potatoes flavored with goat-cheesy gameyness, all topped with cooling cucumber tzatziki.  Even if my cold has gotten worse, the ingestion of such delicious stuff did make me feel better…

Slow Braised Lamb Leg with Goat Cheese Mashed Potato

2lb boneless leg of lamb
1 small onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic
2-3 cups small tomatoes
2 tbs fresh oregano leaves
chicken broth
EVOO
1-1 1/2lbs white potatoes
1/2 cup half & half
4 oz goat cheese
3 tbs butter
8 oz Greek yogurt
1 medium cucumber
1-2 tbs lemon zest
sea salt, cracked black pepper
2 tbs chopped chives

Usually, I make a larger piece of lamb so Clayton and I can make sandwiches with the leftovers, but today I just purchased what looked more like a 3″ thick steak than anything else.  It was rolled and tied, which I ultimately could have removed (since, as you’ll see, it unraveled on its own accord later), but for now I just dusted the whole hunk with salt, pepper, and flour before dropping it into my medium roasting pan with a glug of EVOO heated to high.

I sear each side, including the 3″ wide edges, until the meat is a nice golden brown.

These are some of our little tomatoes, grown on our wee roof-deck.  We’re calling them compost tomatoes, since they sprang unbidden from the compost-mixed-dirt Clayton filled the boxes with before actually planting any seedlings.  They’re delicious — very sweet and complex — although their skins are very thick and a bit tough.  Still – we keep getting scads of these, so I decided to use most of them to make a sort of tomato sauce for the lamb.

After the mutton joint is browned all over, I add most of my chopped onion (reserving about 3 tbs for my yogurt sauce), my oregano leaves, 2 crushed cloves of garlic, and my de-stemmed tomatoes to the pan.

Using the veggies as a sort of rack, I lay my lamb across them and add about an inch of chicken broth the the pan.

Even though it’s cool enough to use the oven, I decide to throw the pan, covered with foil, out into Little Red on the deck anyway.  I shut the lid, and let this braise for about an hour before checking on it.

Meanwhile, I remove the skin and seeds from my cucumber, trying to drain out as much liquid as possible.  Tzatziki shouldn’t be too wet, so I sometimes even salt the cucumber and let it drain some more if I fear it will leech too much into the yogurt.  I also mince some garlic very finely; I’ll only need a 1/4 teaspoon or so, since raw garlic is so very potent.

I mix the remainder of my onion, my chopped cucumber, and my garlic with some salt and pepper before adding my yogurt.

The final ingredient is lemon zest – which gives this sauce a bright flavor.  I put the bowl in the fridge to chill while the rest of dinner comes together.

At the hour mark, my meat is already tender, and I can almost pull it apart with two forks.  As you can see, it also wiggled its way out of the butcher’s net – so I fish that out of the pan and chuck it in the trash.  At this point, I remove the foil paper and close the lid on Little Red again, so that the meat can brown some more and most of the remaining chicken stock can boil off.

Clayton was in charge of the potatoes today, and he got them started before I could snap any pictures.  Luckily, I caught him in the act and snapped this little, relatively uninformative candid.  But basically, we peeled the potatoes, cut them into smaller pieces, and boiled them until tender in salted water.  Then he he added the half & half, butter, and goat cheese to the pan, and mashed everything up together real nice. A little salt and pepper was added, too.

After about 30 more minutes on Little Red, and the meat has nicely browned.  I remove it from the pan…

… which I put on high heat on the stovetop to reduce even further, stirring well to blend all the ingredients together.  This makes the tomatoes spill their guts into the hot oil and chicken fat, thickening the sauce to a red gravy.

The meat falls apart with nary a nasty look, and I add the chunks back into the pan and mix it well with the lovely tomato sauce, until everything is well coated.

A hearty helping of chevre mashed potatoes is layered with tender, juicy, flavorful lamb, the gameyness of which is cut by a perfect balance of tomato and creamy cucumber tzatziki.  I drizzle a little of the red oil leftover in the pan over the whole dish, and scatter some fresh chives for color and zip.  My heart is warmed through by the incredible taste, and my aching body thanks me for providing it with such sublime enrichment.  If I have more dishes like these on my winter horizon, I won’t mind it when the cold weather finally comes.

One final parting shot for my dear readers: the breathtaking Cambridge sky.  If only my camera could really capture all the magnificent beauty.  Dearest Uprooted Magnolia, where are you and your camera-eye when I need you?

Tenderloin Steaks with Wild Mushrooms, Seared Vidalia Onions, and Smashed Potato Stacks

It was finally cold today.  Like 20° F.  For December in New England, this should be par for the course by now, but we’ve been having an unseasonably warm and dry winter so far.  Generally, anything in the double digits this time of year feels relatively balmy, but given the congenial temperatures up to this point, today felt particularly nippy.  And what’s to be done about a nippy day?  Why, a warm, hearty dinner, of course!  After our now-regular bi-monthly trip to Blood Farms, we were laden with protein pabulum just begging to be devoured.  I selected a nice, fresh pair of filet mignons, coupled them with an assortment of wild mushrooms, some pan-seared Vidalia onion shoots, and some confetti spuds to make a real nice meat & potatoes meal that warmed us from the insides out.

Tenderloin Steaks with Wild Mushrooms, Seared Vidalia Onions, and Smashed Potato Stacks

2 8oz tenderloin steaks
2-3 fresh sweet onion shoots and stalks (these are Vidalia salad onions)
12-16 small potatoes (I have creamer, red, and potato spuds here)
8oz wild mushrooms (these are chanterelle, shitake, and woodear)
EVOO
sea salt, black pepper, oregano
sour cream
shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese

This could very well be called a weeknight wondermeal, since it doesn’t take very long and since it has so few components.  But, it made it on the weekend, and I don’t feel like misrepresenting myself to you, dear readers, so it will lack that particular distinction.  The longest cooktime is for the potatoes, which have to boil first before I can smash them into submission.  I throw them into boiling salted water for 20 minutes, or until I can pierce them easily with a fork

Sometimes I beat myself up about the simplicity of my ingredients.  I mean really — I have 4 basic items making up today’s meal – how is that masterful?  But then I think about how freshly sourced all my food is… how locally grown… organic… natural.  And I think about the taste — and just how happy my husband and I are after each and every meal I make.  Simple flavors, masterfully combined – that’s my niche.  Besides, I know where almost all my vegetables have been grown, and by whom, and how recently picked they are; all the meat I eat is from area abattoirs, and it’s all been butchered within days (if not hours) of when it finally passes my lips; even my diary products are mainly from Massachusetts, with the exception of finer imported items from Italy, Spain, and France.  I eat no processed foods, no mass-produced boxed junk, few snacks, and fewer sweets.  So even if Lolita is packing a little more chub on her these days, it’s all from food that is good, wholesome, fresh, natural, and healthy.  Like these here mushrooms: they are so newly harvested from New England forest floors that they have spring and vigor still coursing through their little fungi bodies.  All they’ll need is a quick saute over hot flavor, so I prep them now by washing, drying, and slicing them before I set them aside for later.

Back when Clayton and I still called Georgia home, we lived only a short drive up I75 from Vidalia (pronounced in redneck: vuh-DAY-lee’uh), from whence these beautiful onion shoots hail.  Of course, we now live 2000 miles away, so these veggies don’t conform to my locavore habits, however given my past proximity to the sweet onion capital of the world, I can still lay claim to a familiarity with this produce.  They were featured at Whole Foods, and they looked so sprightly and snappy that I had to have them.  I’ve washed, trimmed, and split them into halves.

I’ve heated my largest skillet to high with a few glugs of EVOO, and I force these shoots as best as I can into the pan.  They’re too large, y’see — so I have to wrastle them onto the surface, trying to coat their green shoots with hot oil so they’d wilt, which they did quite nicely.  Almost immediately, an aroma of searing sharp charring fills the kitchen, and it is good.  These cook for about 10 minutes before I add anything else to the pan.

The potatoes are perfect, so I drain them and spill them out over a couple of EVOO’d baking sheets.  Since they will each make a disc about 1 1/2 – 2″ in diameter, they need room to spread out.

See what I mean?  Using a fork, and my fingers to keep everything together, I smash each spud into a flat little patty, then douse them again with EVOO, salt, pepper, and oregano.  These pans go into a 350° oven to crisp for about 15 minutes.

Just enough time for me to finish my steaks and veggies.  I shove all my searing onions to one side of my hot pan, then move that part of the pan sort of off the heat, leaving the electric eye underneath only about 1/2 the pan – where I place my salted and peppered tenderloin steaks.  Using the flip once a minute technique, I cook these steaks for about 5 minutes on each side until they are perfectly medium rare.

When the steaks are ready, I plate them on top of my onions on warmed plates and set aside.  A few more glugs of EVOO gets added to the pan, and in go the mushrooms, where I saute them over high heat until they are wilted and a little caramelized on their best bits (about 5 minutes).

Meanwhile, my spuds are crispy edged and creamy inn’ed  and I remove them, one by one…

…and stack them with shavings of parmigiano reggiano cheese in between each disc.  These potato towers get topped with a dollop of sour cream and my minced onion greens.

Like so!

Juicy, tender, tenderloin steaks with charred onions and seared mushrooms, served with crispy crunchy creamy potatoes.  Using pure flavors, simple but sophisticated ingredients, and straightforward cooking techniques, I’ve assembled a supper that would be at home at the finest white-tablecloth bistrots as easily as it would be served off of a rustic hearth in a woodsy cabin during a winter white out.  Earth and turf extraordinaire!