What can be one of my favorite things and least favorite things at the same time is perusing my local Trader Joes meat section. Why? because most of the time I go there for one thing in particular and they are out of it. Even chicken breasts, skin on, on the bone. Really.
But then again Trader Joes isn't like most traditional supermarkets where there is ALWAYS something that you want available. So, after a deep breath, a shot of their coffee at the "free food" bar (insert image of me here taking a shot of tequila but it is actually coffee), a stroll down the cheese aisle (brie will always calm me down), I accept it (after a moment of, "Dammit, they are out of Top Sirloin? And that is what I wanted to do for dinner?") and begin to scour the shelves for what I am going to cook INSTEAD.
Well, this happened to me yesterday. Again. I went looking for their Filet Mignon this time and came up empty handed. There was stew meat, New York cut, Tri Tip cut, Blade steak, even marinated everything, but (*sigh) no effing Filet. It's like TJ's knows ahead of time what I want and then they hide it.
Instead of throwing the internal personal "fit" that I do have (see above), I instead took a look at some nice boneless pork chops. Wow, Niman Ranch is now supplying them with pork, I thought, looking at the label.
And for that price, for two pork chops, I thought, hell I will make a meal (for one) out of this!
I started looking around and bought some white wine (of course), prosciutto, fontina cheese, and some spinach, having a stuffed "Saltimbocca" inspired dish in mind (look it up). But, as a chef or a flexible cook, you really have to adapt to what you have on hand to make your meal fantastic. I started off my dinner with the intention of this, and yes, when I cook for myself and others, I do think of how the dish on the menu would read:
"Stuffed Pan Seared Pork Chop - Prosciutto di Parma, Fontina, Sage - Garlicky Sauteed Spinach"
Instead, I got home, looked at my week-old sage and decided, nope.
I quickly changed direction and, looking at what I had on hand, I decided:
"Pan Seared Pork Chop - Roasted Garlic Pan Sauce w/ Applewood Smoked Bacon, Thyme, Chardonnay, Dijon Mustard, Cream - Garlicky Sauteed Spinach"
**(Yes, to answer the burning question, I DO keep most of these ingredients in my fridge...)
And, I thought, in a moment of brilliance, to bring the entire procedure and technique of my cooking this dinner to my blog. Commence the slide show with descriptions of such procedures and techniques (remember, I am French-taught, just like Julia):
Ok so, here is my "mini" cooking class. All of my ideas reflect the best way to extract the flavors and nuances of the dish, assuming you have the time. First, bring the pork out of the fridge 30 minutes before you are going to cook it. This allows the meat to come slightly to room temperature (rather than cold meat straight to the pan) and I think it cooks better. Season generously with sea salt and cracked black pepper (yes, 30 minutes before!).
Ok, the second pork chop I didn't cook, but that is for another blog entry (more exciting testing to come...)
Next, I chop up my nitrate-free applewood-smoked bacon to a cold pan to begin rendering the fat. Why cold? So that you can slowly start extracting the fat rather than adding the bacon to a hot pan which begins to cook the bacon immediately - you want to use the fat for the searing of the pork later. Keep the heat on Med Low so you get the most fat extracted and a nice, crisp, evenly cooked nib of bacon.
Slowly rendering the fat (I am doing this during the 30 minutes that the pork is out on the counter by the way...)
Draining the cooked bacon and saving the fat. Why? Because Pork Fat Rules. And, it adds a subtle flavor to the searing of the pork. PLUS, remember I am French-trained, and we French-trained people like to build flavors. Like building blocks. Following me?
Ok, so the next step is to turn the pan up to Med High to sear off the pork.
To get the nice crust you want, you have to keep the heat high and let it cook for a few minutes a side. If it is a cold pan or the oil isn't hot enough, you will not get that crust and, quite frankly, your pork may stick to your pan (if you are using stainless steel).
So, on top of that, I like to really cook out the "collar" of fat that lines the side of the pork chop. Why? Um, why SHOULDN'T it be enjoyed? Remember, Pork Fat Rules (calling all bacon lovers...)
To some, "no thank you". To me, Y.U.M. (Say it with me....Pork Fat...)
Ok, so the next trick up my sleeve (well, not a trick, but something I like to do with all seared meats) is adding butter to the pan and constantly "butter basting" the meat to give it flavor. Using a spoon, I tilt the pan and constantly baste the pork with the bacon and butter drippings.
I then take the pork out of the pan to rest (its about medium rare, but it will carry over to medium with a 10 minute sit while I finish the sauce). I then drain the "fat" out of the pan and deglaze the pan with Chardonnay, scraping up all of the lovely bits to help enhance the sauce:
I let the wine reduce to half (it was about a cup - remember "building flavors") and then add my thyme, roasted garlic (which, if you smash, helps to thicken the sauce), Dijon mustard, and a touch of heavy cream.
Oh, and can't forget the bacon nibs...(I had much restraint from eating them all):
And, in the last 5 minutes, I was able to saute up some spinach with garlic slivers (multitasking...) to create this lovely dish.
I devoured every, single bite. The pork was so moist and perfectly crusted, and the sauce, though slightly rich, balanced the leanness of the pork. The spinach was just a lovely side that lightened the entire plate.
So, I started with wanting Filet Mignon, settled (quietly) for the pork, and ended up with a meal better than I could have expected. If Filet is the prized piece of beef that everyone goes after, then let me from now on look at the boneless pork chop in the same way, because I was just as satisfied. The building of flavors is what really enhances this dish. At least it does for me, oh, and a glass of wine. Or two. Gulp. Cheers and enjoy!