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?

Lamb Steaks and Lamb’s Lettuce with Sweet Goat Potatoes

This is my cloven hoof version of “duck duck goose” for dinner: lamb lamb’s goat. An inexpensive cut of meat—the arm steak—makes a lovely dinner when you take the time to marinate it quickly before pan-searing it. Add some sweet potatoes draped with goat cheese, and some lamb’s lettuce (otherwise known as corn salad, or maché) dressed simply but elegantly, and some Greek yogurt with garlic and green onions, and you have a fresh, cheap, satisfying, and extraordinarily flavorful meal of the best of basics: meat, potatoes, and salad.

What you’ll need:

2 lovely lamb steaks – these are from the arm blade
2lbs or so of slender sweet potatoes (I only needed 4)
lamb’s lettuce (which is completely different from arugula or watercress or baby greens, all of which, though, will work if you can’t find the maché)
a healthy handful of dried garden herbs (see below for blend info)
dried rosemary
crushed red pepper
a few cloves of garlic
three or four scallions
1 small white onion
2oz goat cheese
EVOO
white vinegar
8oz Greek yogurt
salt and pepper
pita bread

Lamb. My mother never made it; didn’t care for the gamey taste. So, rebellious as I was, I immediately took the opportunity to make and eat the stuff I never had at home as soon as I started cooking for myself. Here are two lovely arm blade steaks, about 8oz each, with the bones in.

Salt and pepper them, and chuck ‘em into a zipper bag. Introduce about a cup of EVOO.

Clayton’s 2009 Summer Garden Blend: sage, purple basil, Italian basil, oregano, and tarragon leaves, dried at the end of the season. I also have some of his rosemary set in a jar, and some crushed red pepper.

Crushing my two hands together over the meat/oil filled zipper bag, with a 1/2cup or so of the fluffy, stemmy, dehydrated-but-still-voluminous herb blend between them, I end up with about 4tbs of pulverized herb flakes. Add about 2tbs rosemary and as much crushed red pepper as you can handle (I use about ¼tsp, ‘cuz I’m lily-livered).

White vinegar: this helps take the gamey edge off, but still preserves the luscious sweetness of the lamb. Add a few tablespoons to the bag.

Crushed garlic: this, er, just tastes good. Add ¼ of your minced 4 cloves to the bag, too.

Squeeze all the air as you possibly can out of the zipper bag, being sure not to inadvertently pierce it with the bones of the lamb. You know the concept of a vacuum-pack? You’re sort of making its poor red-headed, buck-toothed relation here, but it works! Set it aside until just 15 minutes before service.

Potatoes! I’ve selected 4 slender 8oz/ea sweet potatoes for tonight’s meal. What you want are spears.

Using a LARGE knife (this is a Chinese cleaver), split your thin spuds into 1/4s or 1/6s .

Then, slathering them in EVOO, spread them in a single layer over a cookie sheet.

Generously shower them with sea salt and cracked black pepper.

And set them into a 350° oven, on the bottom rack, to roast.

Make your garlic sauce. Here’s the rest of your garlic, and some scallions.

Add the minced garlic to the Greek yoghurt, then chuck in the sliced scallions, some salt, and some pepper.

And some EVOO. A healthy ¼ cup’s worth.

Mix well, and set aside, so the flavors will blend and mellow.

Slice 4 mini (or 2 regular-sized) pitas into quarters (or 8ths).

Pull them into single-layer pieces.

Chuck ‘em in a bowl, and toss them with some olive oil.

And some salt and pepper. Then chuck them in the oven until they’re toasted – about 10 minutes.

And into that selfsame bowl (which is lovingly studded with salt and pepper and olive oil), add a few handfuls of your maché.

Here’s my ghetto stove: all 3 mini, 1 maxi, all uneven eyes with a super-compact profile.

And here’s my ghetto grill pan, all crooked and warped and scratched and probably poisoning me with Teflon bits. But its whats I gots.

But, I’ve found out that if I wedge my ghetto pan under the decorated lip of my ghetto stove, and caddycorner said crooked pan across my two uneven back mini-eyes, why, I get a relatively flat hot non-stick surface with two individual hotspots just about big enough for two individual steaks! Now THAT’S making lemonade! (Thumbs up!)

However, if you’re lucky enough to have a full kitchen and fancy pants equipment, you can set up your flatgrill pan to high heat.

Lamb bits basted in EVOO&WWV and garden grown herbs (GGH?). Unlock your zipper bag and relish in how the spices have stuck-sucked themselves to the steaks.

Set them onto your hot pan, and let them sear.

After about 5 minutes, your steaks should be bleeding through the top, and browning on the bottom. What? There’s really no simpler way to describe it! Lamb should be served medium to medium-rare. I flip them when the browning from the bottom, by looking at the steaks’ sides, has worked its way almost all the way to the top.

Steaks seared; herbs adhered. Perfect. Push down on the edges which may curl and lift off the surface of the pan, sizzling each section. Let it cook for another 3-5 minutes.

Pull your potatoes out of the oven; see how they’ve softened on the upside and caramelized on the downside? Using tongs and a spatula, carefully lift each spear off the pan and layer in a nest on your service plate.

Topped with softened sharp goat cheese, your roasted sweet spud spears are sugar and cream and sinew and skin. Studded with garden grown herbs, your panned lamb is a medium rare slab of savory flavor. Dressed in extra virgin white wine and slivers of onion, your corn salad is crisp succulent. And mounded in the middle, garlicky and green, your yummy yoghurt is the cream to your fresh pita crisps. The coup d’etat of the extraordinary meal is the bargain basement ingredient list. Firing a shot across my bow, Sir Sean Connery Quartermaine tries to compel me to share my dinner. Sorry, friend, but that seat’s taken by Clayton, and he doesn’t have to threaten me to eat (of) me.

Pan-seared Pork Chops, Goat Sweet Potatoes, and Asparagus in Lemon Anchovy Butter

A few stops around the city today, and I ended up with two lovely pork rib chops, some perfect sweet potatoes, and the thinnest ever stalks of asparagus for dinner, all for about $20 (even shopping at Savenor’s).  There was something of a disaster during preparation, however, when my hollandaise completely curdled (first time in my life!), and I had to come up with something very quickly with which to dress my asparagus.  But it all turned out absolutely deliciously in the long run.  Clayton and I shamelessly gnawed our chops to the sweet marrow bone, and picked our potatoes clean through.  An enigmatic blend of flavors, but a perfect taste nonetheless.