Bon Appétit (May 2009)
The May issue of Bon Appétit has a great, extensive feature on heritage pork -- smaller, varied breeds of pig that get ignored by large-scale commercial pork producers. The piece outlines some of the heritage breeds, which have lovely, enticing names like the Duroc, the Red Wattle, the Tamworth and the Ossabaw.
Each breed has a distinct flavor and texture. They all really sound intriguing, and so much more complex and tasty than bland, factory-farmed pork. We're eager to experiment. (Anyone up for a pork-tasting??)
The BA heritage pork feature includes several great recipes, but this one called out to us in particular. We're huge fans of leeks, and the combo of the chops, leeks and mustard sounded too good to resist. (Although those aspects are almost moot, given that this dish has pork chops and bacon. We're huge suckers for pork-on-pork.)
Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until another day to try this recipe with actual heritage pork. There are a couple really terrific pork producers at our Sunday farmers market. But we didn't come across this recipe until mid-week, and we wanted to make it for dinner. So we instead opted for commerical pork chops from our local Harris Teeter and -- SPOILER ALERT! -- this recipe works just great for them too!
We actually took a few other liberties with this recipe, in addition to the store-bought chops. We decided to forgo the "full day in the fridge" of letting the meat rest in a salt rub. Sounds great, and we're sure it would make for more tender, juicer meat. But we just didn't want to take the time.
We also didn't have any cream in the house, so we left that out too. This actually may have turned out to be an improvement. Perhaps if it were winter, we would prefer adding cream to make a heartier, more substantial sauce. But leaving it out left us with lighter, fresher-tasting leeks, which was just fine on a mild spring evening.
The final result was delicious! The chops cooked up nicely moist and juicy, and the leeks and mustard made a powerful one-two punch that was really tasty.
We would make one tweak to this dish, though: We would probably reserve a third or half of the leeks and add them in later in the cooking. While the leeks we made were extremely tasty, they ended up a little on the limp and lifeless side. Cooking some of the leeks as long as this recipe calls for is probably a good idea -- you get a great blend of full-bodied flavors. But keeping a handful out and throwing them in a little later -- in the last 3 minutes of cooking, say -- would let the leeks sing a little bit more on their own.
If you use commercial pork in this recipe, you might want to rub the chops with the salt mixture and let them sit for a full day in the fridge. The long rest will make the meat extra-juicy. Bone-in heirloom rib chops have ample marbling, so the meat will be naturally moist. They don't need to rest as long with the salt rub—an hour or two should be sufficient. These are some big chops, so you might be able to share.
* 4 1 1/2- to 2-inch-thick bone-in heritage pork rib chops
* 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
* 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
* 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
* 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 2 bacon slices, coarsely chopped
* Olive oil (optional)
* 4 cups thinly sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only; about 3 large)
* 3 garlic cloves, minced
* 1/4 cup brandy
* 1 cup low-salt chicken broth
* 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
* 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
* 1/3 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
Pat chops dry with paper towels. Mix 2 teaspoons coarse salt, thyme, rosemary, and 1 teaspoon pepper in small bowl. Sprinkle seasoning mixture on both sides of chops. Let stand at room temperature 1 to 2 hours or wrap and chill up to 1 day.
Heat heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and sauté until crisp and lightly browned. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to small bowl. Increase heat to medium-high. Add chops to skillet. Sear until brown, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer chops to small baking sheet.
Pour off all but 3 tablespoons drippings from skillet (or add olive oil to make 3 tablespoons). Add leeks and sauté until soft, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and stir 1 minute. Add brandy, then broth and bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Return bacon to skillet; add sage and stir to blend.
Nestle chops in leeks in skillet. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover; simmer 3 minutes. Turn chops over. Cover; simmer until thermometer inserted into thickest part of chops registers 140°F to 145°F, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer chops to platter. Tent loosely with foil to keep warm.
Spoon off any fat from cooking liquid in skillet. Boil until all liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Whisk in mustard, then crème fraîche; do not boil. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon over chops.