Pork used to taste different, didn’t it? When my dad made pork chops, he’d fry them up with a little fish sauce and pepper — no brine, just fat and the pungent salt of fish sauce, the savory richness of the bone marrow, and meat that pulled apart easily, loosely held together in the corners along the bone by the gossamer webs of fat between the grain.
These days, when I try to fry up a pork chop that way, I get tight white meat, dense and difficult to cut through, and dry as a bone. I can appreciate the juiciness of brined chops, but that ham-like quality is not what I remember, what I crave, when I think of a good pork chop.
But this Saturday, I spent some cash at the Violet Hill Farms stand at the Greenmarket. I’d been ecstatically surprised by the savory oomph of their ground pork in the past, despite the fact that it was always frozen when I bought it. Was I crazy? I mean, it’s just ground pork. But I sent my friend Winnie there and she had the same reaction. I’ve enjoyed their meaty, rich and smoky bacon many mornings, the crisp, thick chunks dipped in New York maple syrup. I decided to give their chops a try, with high hopes.
Don’t be scared of the vacuum pack, because this is what a chop should look like. Not pale pink like the distant supermarket cousin, but gorgeous rosy-beige in the loin, 1 1/2 inches thick, with exposed rib marrow and a snowy 1 inch "fat cap", as Alice Waters calls it in the Chez Panisse Cafe cookbook. I followed her simple-cure recipe, which required some crushed bay leaf, a little allspice, salt and pepper, and I rubbed the beautiful chops before letting them sit covered overnight in the fridge.
The next day, I let them sit out for an hour to get them closer to room temperature. I heated a little bit of olive oil my new All-Clad 4 qt. saute pan and gently laid those chops down in the smoking oil. The fat cap melted down a bit and hugged the loin a little tighter. 5 minutes on each side without any movement disturbances gave the loin a rich goldenrod browning I haven’t seen on a chop in a long time. Then 5 minutes in a 350 degree oven to help the insides cook through. When they were finished, I set them aside to rest.
I heated up some butter and tossed my pre-blanched white turnips, baby carrots, and peas (frozen, alas). Let me tell you something, a pork chop like this is the KING of meats. It was sticky-fatty, not watery, seasoned all the way through; crisp along the edges and tender through the grain; salty and savory set off by the sweetness of the buttered early summer veg. In my mind, a chop like this can stand up proudly against any ritzy beer-fed, massaged beef filet.
If you’ve forgotten what pork should taste like (because, contrary to the marketing campaign, pork was never meant to be the Other White Meat), you MUST try these chops. The Chez Panisse Cafe cookbook says these are best grilled, 7 minutes per side, but these pan-frieds were just right for me.
Violet Hill Farms
Union Square Greenmarket
Southwest corner of the square, on the dog run side
About $10 for two chops