Sunday, November 4, 2012

Braised Pork Chops

It has recently been brought to my attention that I have not written to a new blog post since early August.  I have been really busy since August, starting a new school year, and then promptly switching to an entirely new school district a month later.  This transition has taken a fairly significant toll on me; however, despite any excuses I may have, the idea of a three-month absence from my blog honestly makes me wince.  A blog is not a static creature; it only exists for as long as it is actually being written, and mine was coming dangerously close to extinction.  The longer I went without writing, that more difficult it was to even consider making time for it.  Alas, I am sitting in front of my computer, with my proverbial tail between my legs, with the offering of some humble pork chops to my audience (assuming I still have one).  This is my first prolonged absence (and probably not my last), but hopefully this post bring a resurgence of cooking and blogging in my life.  At the very least, it brought some braised pork chops into my kitchen.
The weather is getting colder and days darker, and this is truly my favorite time of year to cook.  Soups, braises, baked pastas, and roasted vegetables are perfect for the winter months, and these are the recipes that resonate with me.  I don’t believe there is a pork chop recipe to date on my blog, so I thought I would expand my horizons, but do so with one of my favorite and familiar cooking methods: braising.  First, I seared the pork chops.  The key is to let them get really brown; make sure the pan is hot and let them sear, undisturbed, for about 5 minutes on each side.  There may even be a few wisps of smoke.  Then I let them simmer in tomatoes and white wine, with capers and herbs.  I don’t make a lot of pork chops, but in general, bone-in cuts result in more flavor, so I went with bone-in, center cut pork chops, and they were even better than expected.  I used fresh thyme, but I think any combination of herbs would work (dried or fresh).  Despite the fact that it is November, my outdoor thyme plant is thriving on my balcony, so I am taking advantage of it while I still can.  Lately, I’ve been cooking the simplest things possible, mostly on the grill to minimize dishes.   I’ve been avoiding anything more involved, but cooking and writing about these pork chops felt like a relief.  I also made some lemon-thyme couscous, which seemed right at home with the tomatoey sauce.  And I made some roasted broccoli as well because I can’t seem to get enough of it lately, but sautéed spinach would have been another perfect accompaniment. 
Braised Pork Chops with Capers, Tomatoes, and Thyme

1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (optional)
1 lb. pork chops (center cut, bone-in.  This amount of sauce could handle one to one and half pounds)
1 small red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2-3 teaspoons fresh thyme, plus extra for garnish
1 cup white wine
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons capers
1 teaspoons red wine vinegar or lemon juice
Freshly chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

-       Season pork chops liberally with salt and freshly group black pepper
-       In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat, for 4-5 minutes, until lightly smoking, and add the butter.  Stir to combine.
-       Add pork chops in a single layer or in batches (do no crowd them, or move them around to allow them to brown for about 5 minutes per side).  Remove browned pork chops from pan and set aside.
-       Add onions, season with salt and pepper, and hot pepper flakes, if using (add another teaspoon of oil if the pan looks dry), and sauté and stir frequently for 8-10 minutes until they are softened but not browned.
-       Add tomato paste, garlic, and thyme and sauté, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute. 
-       Add white wine, bring to a boil and add canned tomatoes.  Allow mixture to boil for about 5-8 minutes so it reduces slightly (by about a 1/4-1/3)
-       Add capers to the mixture, then return the pork chops to the pan.
-       Reduce the heat to medium (so the mixture is simmering, but not aggressively boiling), cover the pan, but leave the lid vented so that steam can escape.
-       Allow to cook for about 15 minutes, flipping pork chops every 5 minutes.
-       Finish with lemon juice or vinegar; serve with lemon-thyme couscous

Lemon Thyme Couscous

1 cup reduced sodium chicken stock
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup of couscous
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

-       Add chicken stock, thyme, and lemon zest to a small pan and bring to a boil.
-       Add couscous, turn off heat and cover.  Let stand for 5 minutes until all liquid is absorbed.
-       Fluff with a fork and season with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt/pepper.