Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Almost Meatless... Unless There's a Juicy Pork Chop Nearby

I know I've been extolling the virtues of eating less meat lately, but I have to confess: there is nothing like a good pork chop. We're lucky enough to live about three blocks from a terrific butcher, an old-world kind of place that carries lots of high-quality organic meats. The pork chops they cut to order are just gorgeous. So you know, if you're going to eat meat, this is the way to do it.

Braised Pork Chops with Savoy Cabbage seemed like a good choice for a rainy winter Sunday. The recipe, from Lidia's Italy, plays on a centuries-old combination; in this rendition, the meat and its juices are used to flavor and cook the cabbage. I'm usually not a huge cabbage fan, finding it kind of stinky and even bitter. Just a few weeks earlier, I'd given it a chance, and was disappointed. But I reasoned that Lidia had never steered me wrong, and at least I was certain the pork would be stellar.

The recipe has you slice the cabbage into inch-and-a-half-wide strips and boil them until tender, about 15 minutes. Next, you heat up some butter and olive oil in a skillet and brown the chops alongside a few rosemary sprigs. Once they're nicely braised, you remove them, and pour some white wine into the skillet, deglazing any caramelization. Toss in a bit more butter and olive oil (I should've known: wine, butter and oil are keys to making cabbage tasty), and then pile in the cooked, drained cabbage. Let almost all the liquid evaporate, and the cabbage shreds start to caramelize, then return the meat to the pan. Cook it all for a few minutes more, and you're set.

There was silence as we tucked in. Fork finally broke it, saying, "Perfect. This is the best pork chop I've ever had." I had to agree. The chops were slightly pink in the center, juicy and--I can't believe I'm writing this, but it's true--succulent. The cabbage was tender and delicious, the rosemary cutting any bitterness and the meat giving it a rich, deep flavor. We ate the cabbage and pork with a spinach salad with hard-boiled eggs and bacon, and some semolina bread. And we ate it all, every last bite.--S

Braised Pork Chops with Savoy Cabbage

serves 6

4 lbs Savoy cabbage
6 T butter
6 T extra-virgin olive oil
6 pork loin chops, on the bone, 2.5 to 3 lbs.
2 t coarse sea salt
2 or 3 small branches fresh rosemary
1 c white wine
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Brings 6 quarts of water to the boil in the large pot. Slice the cabbage head (or heads) in half, and cut out the core completely so the leaves will separate. Discard all tough and torn outer leaves, lay the cabbage halves cut side down, and slice crosswise into strips about 1 1/2 inches wide. Drop all the strips into the water, cover the pot, and return to the boil. Cook the cabbage until tender, about 15 minutes, and drain in a colander.
2. When the cabbage is cooked, put 3 T each of butter and olive oil in the big skillet and set over medium-high heat. Season the pork chops on both sides with salt (about 1 t in all) and lay them in the hot skillet. Drop the rosemary branches onto th epan bottom.
3. Sear the chops on the underside, about 3 minutes, turn, and brown the second side for a few minutes more. The chops should still be rare--if you like them better done, cook a minute or two longer on both sides. Remove to a platter, and keep in a warm spot.
4. Pour the wine into the skillet and bring to a boil, stirring to deglaze any caramelization. Cook for just a minute or so, to dissipate the alcohol, then drop in the remaining 3 T of butter and 3 T of olive oil. Stir well until the butter melts and the liquid is bubbling.
5. Pile the cooked, drained cabbage in the skillet, turning the strips over as they heat and wilt in the pan juices. Sprinkle 1 t salt all over, and cook, tossing and stirring, until the pan is nearly dry and the cabbage shreds are just starting to caramelize.
6. Push aside the cabbage, lay the chops on the pan bottom, and pour in any meat juices from the platter. Still over medium-high heat, cook the chops for 2 or 3 minutes, turning them over once or twice, just until they're heated through. Stir the cabbage so it continues to caramelize and pick up flavor. Season with more salt and some freshly ground black pepper to taste.
7. Serve right from the skillet, or arrange chops and cabbage on a platter and bring to the table.

Recipe courtesy of Lidia's Italy

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