I had rather forgotten about pork chops until recently. They used to be a family staple in the days when a pound of liver, two pounds of mince, some sausages, a few lamb’s kidneys, four pork chops and a chicken to roast on Sunday constituted the butcher’s order for the thrifty household. It is a comfort at least that they remain a thrifty option: however, they are not always a consistent product.
Butchers generally strived to offer their pork quite lean, even in those days, as very fatty meat was usually eschewed. Even 50 years ago, the traditional breeds such as Middle White and Gloucester Old Spot were becoming rare, principally because their tendency to fat made them somewhat uncommercial.
Since then the market has gone in two directions. The supermarkets have increased the pressure on the producer to supply pork with hardly any fat at all, resulting in a plethora of lean, mean and rather tasteless little chops on offer. On the other hand, the “gourmet” market has swung back the other way, the traditional breeds have returned and you can have your pork as fatty as you like.
This is all well and good because those extreme, old-breed pigs produce the most magnificent roasts – especially when burnished slowly on a spit – with crunchy crackling and beautifully lubricated meat beneath. The chops, however, from these animals are not so good.
A good pork chop needs a large loin and a modest surround of fat and peripheral muscle, whereas old-breed pigs have the opposite conformation. There is still a happy medium to be found with pork from well-husbanded, traditional breeds such as Tamworth, Berkshire and Duroc – that will give the sort of chop required. You might just have to shop around for them.
Having procured a nice chop, gentle cooking in a little of its own fat and an understanding that when the meat has stiffened it is pretty much done are all that is necessary. Heston Blumenthal has perfected cooking pork chops by immersing them in a 3 per cent brine solution for hours, then cooking them at low temperature in a plastic bag in a waterbath for another number of hours and then colouring them briefly in a pan. The result is indeed close to perfection but there is still room for a more intuitive approach, armed only with a little care and a heavy frying pan.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
Pork chop with endives, lemon and raisins
Two good chops fit snugly in a smallish sauté pan: I therefore suggest a little supper for two. No reason not to cook four in a bigger pan.
1 tbs raisins
2 pork chops
1 tsp sherry vinegar
A few sprigs of fennel
50ml white wine
Pour boiling water over the raisins and leave them to swell for half an hour while you prepare the other elements of the dish. Peel the lemon thinly (not taking too much pith) and cut the peel into thin matchsticks. Place these in a little pan of cold water, bring to the boil, simmer for three or four minutes and then drain and refresh in cold water.
Remove the rinds from the pork chops and place these in a dry pan, fat-side down so that it can render on a gentle heat. Split the endives in half and then half again lengthways, rinse in cold water and then dry before placing in the pan with the pork rinds. Let these colour gently on all sides before sprinkling with a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of sugar, half the juice from the lemon and the sherry vinegar. Let the endives stew very gently in this mixture for 10 minutes or until they are tender before decanting them all on to another dish with the juice from the cooking.
Wipe the pan clean and add a teaspoon of oil. Season the chops on one side with salt and pepper and place seasoned-side down on the hot pan. Fry gently for two to three minutes, adding a knob of butter halfway through the cooking before seasoning the other sides and turning them over. Sprinkle the lemon peel and very coarsely chopped fennel over the chops and cook them the same length of time on the other side. The meat should be beginning to stiffen but the eye should still feel tender.
Pour the endives and juice over and around the chops, together with the raisins, add a splash of wine and simmer for 30 seconds before removing from the stove. Let the meat rest in its juice for a couple of minutes before serving.
Rowley’s drinking choice
I generally prefer white wine with my pork. A full-bodied but aromatic white with a bit of oak, such as a Châteauneuf du Pape or a similar wine from the southern Rhône, would be ideal.
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