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When Heston Blumenthal opened his restaurant Dinner in the Mandarin Oriental, one of the most praised dishes, alongside the miraculous tipsy cake and the “meat fruit”, was the pork chop. It did not sound particularly interesting and everybody I asked could not really explain why it was so good except to say that it was perfectly cooked.
Knowing the boffin of Bray a little bit – I have been in his laboratory and been force-fed sweets in edible wrappers flavoured with Parma violets (weird) and black pudding (weirder) – I suspect the perfect cuisson of the pork chop has a lot to do with vacuum pack bags, water baths and impeccable temperature control.
There is a problem here. Granted, you can teach an idiot to vacuum pack a pork chop and to put the thing in a water bath for three hours and 42 minutes at 59C and you will get a perfectly cooked piece of meat. With a little legerdemain at the last minute, putting it in a frying pan for 30 seconds or blasting it with a blowtorch, you will get a pretty good simulacrum of a conventionally cooked piece of meat. When you put this sort of thing in the hands of someone like Heston, of course, you will get something a great deal better than that.
Unfortunately the person who performs this task is no longer a cook. He or she is an operative, trained in the knowledge of how to put something in a bag and when to take it out again. It would appear that the next generation of “chefs” – and don’t imagine Heston is the only one deploying these methods: they are all at it – will resemble characters from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and they won’t know the difference between a pork chop, chopped liver or chop suey.
One of my objections to this sort of cookery is that it is so removed not just from the source but also from any kind of home cooking. I was intrigued to read Jonathan Margolis’s review of a home vacuum pack and water bath kit in How to Spend It a couple of weeks ago. Being a techie, he loved it, of course, but even he was remarkably cautious in recommending it, asserting it was not for the dabbler but only the most dedicated practitioner. That should put them off, I thought.
Pork chop with peperonata
The pork chops must be thick cut and, needless to say, of excellent quality. If cut thinner, they will need a much shorter cooking time. This makes quite a lot of peperonata and half can be kept back and stored in the fridge for a week.
- Char the peppers on an open flame until blackened all over and place in a plastic bag together with the also charred chilli. Tie a knot in the bag and leave for 20 minutes. After this time, remove the peppers, remove the blackened skin, cut open and remove the seeds and then cut the flesh into long thin strips. Peel, seed and chop the chilli as well.
- Peel and slice the two onions very thinly. Peel and chop the garlic very thinly as well. Stew them both in a heavy sauté pan until soft and transparent. Add the peppers and the thyme, season with salt and pepper, and then add the wine and stew very gently for another 10 minutes.
- Remove the rind from the chops. Place this in a heavy, dry pan, fat side down and let the fat render out into the pan. Season the chops with salt and pepper and place in the pan. Let the chops colour very gently for about eight minutes and then turn and cook for the same time on the other side, basting occasionally with any rendered fat. By the end of this time the chops should be just cooked through but still juicy and very moist. A skewer removed from the centre should be very warm.
- Remove the chops from the pan to a warm plate and pour out the fat and rind. Squeeze half the juice of the lemon into the pan and scrape up any juices before adding the peperonata. Return the chops to the pan, coat them with the mixture and then serve.
Rowley’s drinking choice
The acidity in the peppers and fat in the pork really suggest a white wine with some heft, either a Rhône or a punchy southern Italian such as Fiano di Avellino. If red wine must be taken, a robust Nero d’Avola from Sicily would fit the bill.
Photographs: Andy Sewell
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