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?

Steak with Drunken Shiitake Cream, Manchego Spinach, and Sweet Potato Spears

There are times in this carnivorous woman’s life when she absolutely needs meat.  Last night was one of those nights.  If I looked back over my past posts, I’m sure I’ll see a few where I’ve opened with this sentiment before, and I’m quite sure I’ll do so again.  (Check back in a month.)  That doesn’t change the fact that last night’s meatstravaganza was essentially a blue plate dinner: steak, spinach, and fries.  But since it was one of Lolita’s meatstravaganzas, the steak was a crusty seared medium-rare ribeye bathed in shiitake mushrooms drowning in brandy and cream, the spinach was melted with nutty manchego cheese, and the fries were EVOO roasted sweet potato spears — all three offerings several orders of magnitude better than one’s typical diner fare.  And all just the ticket to replenish my dwindling energy.  Today, I’m a powerhouse of cow-fueled enthusiasm.  Thanks, Bessie!  You were delicious…

Steak with Drunken Shiitake Cream, Manchego Spinach, and Sweet Potato Spears

1 nice, thick cut ribeye steak
1 small, narrow long sweet potato
4oz shiitake mushrooms
1 shallot
4-6oz baby spinach
1/2 cup shredded manchego cheese
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
EVOO
sea salt, cracked black pepper

As you can see, almost all of my ingredients came from Trader Joe’s down the street, where the husbandman now has a part-time job while he goes to school (and where he was while I enjoyed this meal solo).  I never used to buy their meats, preferring to get mine from Whole Foods around the corner, but we need the discount so I’ve been trying them out lately.  I have to say, I’m pretty impressed!  This was a beautiful steak.

This could almost qualify as a weeknight wondermeal, since I had it finished within 30 minutes, but there are a few too many ingredients and cookware needed to really make the grade.  Still, it was fairly simple to make, especially considering the excellent result.  At any rate, roasting the sweet potato was going to take the longest period of time, so I started by washing it and slicing it into 8 spears.  These get tossed with EVOO, salt, and pepper, and laid out on a baking sheet.  I pop ‘em in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, during which time I make everything else.

Steak.  All I add to it is some fresh cracked black pepper.  I throw it into a medium hot non-stick pan, and I use the flip once-a-minute technique to capture all those lovely juices, and to sear it to a perfect medium rare.  This takes about 10 flips total – for about 5 minutes on each side.

When it’s almost ready, I get my spinach started by simply throwing it all into a hot pan, and tossing it until it wilts.  No water – no butter – just spinach and heat.  It actually sort of melts on its own, and releases its own juices, but I want a drier product than a typical creamed spinach which is why I’m prepping it this way this time.

As the spinach starts to reduce, and when my steak is done, I move it to a warm plate and keep it covered while I make the sauce.  I start with a minced shallot, sauteed until translucent in a glug of EVOO.

I then add my washed and patted dry shiitake mushrooms, which I’m keeping whole.  Unlike crimini or white mushrooms, which have plumper caps and take longer to soften, I throw these in whole, along with half of my brandy to get them started.  I toss this very well, distributing the heat, so that my mushrooms can wilt and soften.

Like my spinach, which is completely shrunken and dense now, instead of  leafy and voluminous.

In goes my shredded manchego cheese and my milk (which just helps melt the cheese).  I toss this well until everything is nicely incorporated, and season it with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, I add my sour cream and the rest of my brandy to my mushrooms, which I mix well again and cook over medium heat until the sauce is thick and creamy.

Finally, I pull out my sweet potato spears, which are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

My tender, chewy mushrooms have soaked up all that brandy, scenting them with floral sweetness, imbuing the cream sauce with delightful nuances.  The bed of spinach which props up my juicy bloody steak is a delicious balance of vetegal greenness and nutty Spanish cheese, and the caramelized potato spears provide just the right amount of starch to the plate.  The perfect bite is a forkful with a bit of everything on it: ribeye, ‘shroom, cream, veg, and potato.  All the right stuff for dinner, made just the right way.  ‘Nuff said.

Warm Sweet Potato, Frisée, and Duck Salad with Cherries and Cracklins

Clayton and I felt oppressed the other night. A particular brand of home-based oppression we’ve been suffering under for some while, and when we feel like that, we gots to GO. And go we did — to one of our neighborhood’s chic’est joints: Central Kitchen.  It is about an 8 minute walk, right up the street, from our little pad.  And when we got there, we had a nigh on *perfect* meal.  I mean, everything was prepared, seasoned, and served just right.  EVERYTHING.  They totally had their game on that night.  Out of it all, though, the dish I loved best was this lovely warm duck salad with sweet root vegetables, currants, frisée, and some sort of simple complex dressing.  I just about licked the plate; Clayton got, like, one bite.

Tonight, I’m flying solo; Clayton’s out of town.  Since I didn’t let him eat any of this at the restaurant, I thought tonight would be a perfect time for me to make this and be totally guilt-free about not sharing.  I mean – he’s all out having fun in DC, and I’m stuck here bringing home the bacon.  So, this was my reimagining of that perfect dish, and I have to tell you, I think I knocked it out of the park.  I couldn’t find the currants at Savenors, although they did have some duck confit legs (I’ll have to make these for myself one of these days, but for now, I let D’Artagnan do all the hard work).  Since I had some dried bing cherries at home, I didn’t worry about the currants.  I also purchased a nice wee head of frisée, and a pleasingly misshapen yam.

My gastronomic precognitive powers were at an all-time high last night, and – almost in a dream – I found myself quick-pickling a carrot I had in the fridge – and it provided just the dressing, and just the bitter sweetness, this dinner required.  I first ran it across  my mandoline’s lowest setting, and then sliced it into even thinner ribbons.  I dumped those in a zipper bag, and added 1/2 cup of salt, 1/4 sugar, and some cracked black pepper.

The final ingredient for a quick sweet pickling process is vinegar.  But since I wanted my carrot shreds to be even sweeter, I used some of my own tarragon vinegar, which I always have on hand.  All one needs is some fresh tarragon, white wine vinegar, and a bottle.  And what a difference the tarragon makes; fennel-sweet, richly aromatic, yet still the dry bitter tang vinegar’s supposed to impart.

I added enough to cover the carrots, and then pressed all the air out of the bag before I placed it in my fridge last night.  Like I said, I almost can’t remember doing this, but obviously, I did.  Nice!

Roasting sweet potatoes takes patience, even when you peel one and break it down into perfect little cubes like this.  But for my serving idea for this salad, I want lots of little bites.  I toss them with EVOO, sea salt, and cracked black pepper, and then throw them into a large ceramic dish on 300° to roast for 30-45 minutes.  I wanted them nice and soft, but lightly caramelized on the edges.

I succeeded.


I then roast my confit legs.  It takes about 20 minutes on 400°, which is fine.  I just wrap my potatoes in foil to keep warm; I’m going to heat the whole salad through again later, sort of, anyway.  You’ll see what I mean…

I break out my frisée, and cut off the core.  Then I wash it thoroughly in my salad spinner, and toss it into a large bowl.

I pull the fat and skin off the top of my now sizzling hot roasting duck legs, place the skins back in the ceramic dish, and then back in the oven, now set to broil, for 5-8 more minutes to crisp and render, while I prep the salad.  Using two forks, I shred all that rich, dark, steaming, glistening duck meat off the bones.  And I pick, here and there, just to make sure it, y’know, hasn’t gone bad… which I know it hasn’t… but still I pick… it’s my right.

Remember this?  My overnight sweet pickled carrot ribbons are pulled out of the fridge, and I tentatively taste one slice I fish out of the bag.  It’s pickled, all right.  The flavor when the thread touches my tongue is almost saccharin-rich at the very onset, complex with an ouzo-esque opulence,  but that experience evaporates immediately into an absinthian dryness.  I’m not sure if I love it, but I decide to have faith in the ingredients I’ve assembled: a fatty dark meat, snappy, sinewy greens, and toothsome starchy yams.  I think (spoiler alert: I was  right!) that each item will compliment, in fact, almost *need* each other ingredient to make this dinner the delight I desire.  To me, that’s what this cooking stuff is all about. So, I dump about 1/2 the dressing into my bowl with the duck, potatoes, and greens.  I remove my cracklins from the oven, and pour 1 tbs of the duck fat over the contents of the bowl.  Hot grease over a salad?  For shame!  But wait — methinks I remember fondly that mid 90′s craze for hot bacon dressing, which was basically bacon fat and vinegar.  With that factoid for reinforcement, I toss away.  After all, this is what wilts my greens and rewarms my potatoes, along with the already hot duck meat.

 

Cherries.  I love these things.  I can sit for a whole night and ingest a pound of these.  I’m more apt to do so when they are concentrated and dried like they are here, but I would go all Witches of Eastwick on fresh ones if I could.  I think the Bible got it wrong: the fruit of temptation wasn’t the apple, it was the cherry, baby.  I throw a handful into the bowl, and mix well.

I pack an 8 oz conical juice-glass tightly with my salad, and then turn the formation onto a plate.  I drape some of my pickled carrots over the mound, scatter a few cherries and chopped duck cracklins over everything, and then drizzle some balsamic glaze at the last moment.  Although I’m not happy with my pedestrian curlie-que drizzling style (yes, I know… it looks like cheap chocolate sauce squirted over a dessert plate at Applebee’s), the impulse was a good one.   Delicious duck, yummy yams, luscious lettuce, perfect pickled carrots, chewy cherries, crispy cracklin, and beautiful balsamic glaze.  A sophisticated dinner served for one.  Run towards me all you want, young Billy Baldwin and sexy Cindy Crawford (yes, I’m watching FAIR GAME.  Sue me.).  Run as fast as you can.  You still won’t get to me before I dive headfirst into this delectable delight, and I doubt there’ll be any left when you get here.

 

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