Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Piggin' Out

The other night, my kids were up in arms.  It was another crazy schedule of a day, and we only had about 40 minutes to make and eat dinner between activities.  Silly me, I had forgotten that I had told them they could have mac and cheese for our next quickie dinner.  So when they asked what we were having, and I said pork chops, the reaction was less than pleasant.  They must have inherited my "undying love for mac and cheese" gene.  Then, my oldest paused from the "But you said..."s and asked, "Are the pork chops from Amy's?".  I grinned, because I knew I had them now.  "Are there any other kind?"  Wink.  There was a split second of silence, and then, in unison..."Yay!  Amy's pork chops!!!"

If you haven't read me brag on her already, the Amy in question here is the owner of Amy's Organics, our local organic mobile farmers' market, and she carries some fantastic meat on her truck.  I've already written about the fish she carries.  The Berkshire pork chops, no doubt, are my family's favorite.  Amy gets her pork chops from Black Earth Meats, who believes in farming methods that are organic and humane, and they also are grass-fed.  Joel Salatin, a farming icon, likes to talk about respecting the "pigness of the pig", and to me, these chops are what that ideal tastes like.  They are a deep, rich pork flavor, and once we tasted them, any store-bought chops pale in comparison.



Amy sells the boneless chops frozen in packs of 2, and I usually make 2 packages (4 chops) for dinner, because we've found that the girls will eat almost a whole chop each themselves.  This night, I was making chops for hubby and I later, so I just got 2 ready to go for the kids.  I had thawed them in my fridge, so we were all set to get a quick start.

Gorgeous, gorgeous pork!  
Now, pork chops are probably not the first thing that comes to mind for a "quick" meal, but I'll make the argument that they should be.  Good grass-fed pork is a great source of protein, and very kid-friendly.  I'm going to show you how I have them on the table in about 20 minutes with an easy recipe that enhances that "pigness of the pig" flavor.  First, I heat up my grill outside.  You could also do this under the broiler in your oven.  I get the chops out of the packaging and onto a plate.  I cover both sides with some kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.  Feel free to experiment with spices here, if you'd like.  No rules.  

 Next, I take some good olive oil and a flavored balsamic vinegar and drizzle both sides of the chops with those.  I usually stick with a neutral olive oil, but if you have some fancy flavors that you think would be good, give it a go!  My fanciness in flavor is reserved for the balsamic.  This time around, I used a tangerine balsamic, but I have also had great success with blueberry, black currant, pomegranate, and cinnamon pear flavored balsamic vinegars.  If you're totally thrown by where you might even start to look for such wild flavors, check around your area for a local olive oil shop.  The Olive Tap and Twisted Olive are a couple of our favorites.  My kids can go to town on sampling all the balsamics and oils in places like that.  And, as you can probably tell by the counter in my kitchen, I may have a slight addiction to them myself.

These are just the balsamic vinegars...the oils are another story.
 I lower my grill to a medium heat, which usually keeps it around 375 degrees or so, and then I put the chops on for about 7 minutes each side.  These chops are pretty thick, about an inch.  If yours are thinner, go for less time on each side.  If you're doing it in your oven under the broiler, you might want to shorten the time a bit too.

I wasn't always a griller, but when we built our house 8 years ago, my hubby had the brilliant idea to include an outside gas hook up for our grill, so now I can just fire it up whenever I need it, and it has been wonderful.  He doesn't hear it too often, but this is me admitting that he was right, and also that he's kind of brilliant.

The chops are ready to come out when they feel pretty firm at the thickest part of the chop.  If you make a fist with one hand and use the other hand to feel the muscle between your thumb and forefinger, your pork should feel like that muscle feels if you make a tight fist.  When you cut it open, it should be cooked and opaque all the way through.

After you take the meat off the grill (onto a clean plate, I have to add...do not reuse ANYTHING that has touched raw pork...trichinosis is no laughing matter), cover it with a light tent of parchment and/or foil and let it sit for a couple of minutes.  This allows the juices in the meat to redistribute, making every bite moist and delicious.

During the 14 minutes while the meat is cooking, I usually try to maximize time and throw together the rest of the meal.  Sometimes I make pasta and toss it in some pesto.  Sometimes I steam up some veggies.  On this night, I heated up some leftover rice and was going to steam some green beans, but my crazy kiddos all decided that they wanted the beans raw this time.  Who am I to judge?  They're still eating veggies, right?  Plus, that gave me a few extra minutes to kick my feet up and relax (yeah, right) before grabbing the meat off the grill.
The kids' version of dinner.  Hubby and I steamed our green beans and didn't need the meat pre-cut.
These are pork chops at their best.  The quality of the Black Earth Berkshire pork doesn't need to be slathered with a sauce or cooked to death.  Just a little flavor boost and then enjoy that "pigness of the pig".

Quick and Easy Pork Chops

boneless pork chops (grass-fed, Berkshire if possible)
salt
pepper
olive oil
balsamic vinegar

Sprinkle the chops with salt and pepper on both side, then drizzle both sides with olive oil and balsamic.

Grill over medium heat for about 7 minutes each side, until the meat is opaque throughout.  Remove from grill and cover for a few minutes, then serve.