O.K., time for some 'poke' chops. I sure do love me some 'poke'...it's versatile, it's (relatively) cheap, it can be lean, it can be fatty, and perhaps most importantly, it's tasty. This night we cooked some bone-in center cut chops, also known as top loin chops, or strip chops. Eventually they will be pan-fried and topped with a dollop of sour cream and pineapple chutney, alongside braised red cabbage and mutsu apples, wild rice, and a simple spinach salad. First we talk about some of the sides...
I started with the cabbage. This is a classic accompaniment to pork, and something that my family (being of Danish heritage) always serves for Christmas-eve dinner. Thinly sliced cabbage, diced red onion, and peeled and diced mutsu apples braise in apple cider vinegar, sugar, and spice. I kept it pretty simple spice-wise, just a little salt, pepper, and a pinch of coriander. Let simmer, covered, for 1 hour. You may want to adjust sugar seasoning to taste if it's too sour. Once the cabbage was in the pot and simmering, I got some rice going. I love wild rice, and the black japonica rice blend from Lundberg is my one of my favorites. Diced onion sautees in butter, add 1 cup of rice, stir to coat, add 2 cups of broth, bring to a boil, cover and turn heat down and simmer for 45 minutes.
Then I started on my chutney. This photo here is of the first round of chutney, that I ruined. I had a ripe pear and had peeled and chopped. After adding some red onion and other spices, I grabbed a jar of ground dry ginger to tap in a little sprinkle.....oops. There was no plastic shaker lid on it. Tap in a little sprinkle turned in to pour in a huge scoop. I tried to save it. Alas, it was the pear chutney's time to go. Damn. Oh well, think quick, what other fruit do you have lying around that would be happy on pork? Not much fresh...open the freezer door and, shizam! Frozen pineapple chunks:
I will make a pineapple chutney. O.K. So, hindsight being 20-20, I poked (apropos, seeing the drawled swine title of this blog) around I found that I did have some fresh ginger. So that got minced, red onion diced, into a hot pan, a dash of spice (salt, pepper, cumin), pineapple joins the party, a splash of lime juice, a liberal sprinkle of sugar (me and my liberal sprinkles tonight!), and leave to simmer. Since the chunks couldn't easily be chopped when frozen, once everything had heated though and cooked down a bit, I emptied the contents on to my cutting board and chopped it up with my trusty cleaver. Then back into the pan to stay warm.
Now, on to the pork. These chops were to get a breading treatment, and I had recently seen Sunny Anderson bread up some poke chops on her show Cooking For Real. Sunny said her secret was cornstarch. 1 cup of all-purpose flour + 1/2 cup of cornstarch = crispy. I gave it a try, and they were fantastic! I just pan-fried mine in a little canola oil instead of deep-frying them in shortening but they still formed a great crust. Another little trick was adding some hot sauce to my egg wash (before dredging). I have heard elsewhere, too, that it is best to have your seasoning underneath your breading, so your spices don't burn. Cook on med-high for about 4 or 5 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 140-145° F.*
*A note on cooking pork safely: the risk of trichinosis is nearly nonexistent in the U.S. nowadays, and even if the trichina parasite is present, it is killed when the temperature of meat reaches 137° F. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Pork Board (have to) recommend cooking pork to a final internal temperature of 160°, but given the leanness of today's pork, such recommendations result in dry, tough meat. The folks in Cook's Illustrated test kitchens find that cooking pork beyond 150° is a waste of time and money, and cook thinner cuts of pork such as chops to a slightly rosy 140-145°. If you are paranoid about salmonella contamination, you must cook (any type of) meat (including beef!) to 160° to ensure that all pathogens are eliminated. (from Cook's Illustrated, The Best New Recipe Cookbook)
So, when my digital thermometer registered 140°, I threw them poke chops on the plate! Dropped a dollop of sour cream and a spoonful of chutney over the top, plated up my sides and garnished the plate with some fresh chives, and sat down with my gal for a lovely meal.