Tuesday, February 16, 2010

textures... cast iron & perfect pork chops


Sad but true – that you can love something so passionately for so long, and then one day you imagine how they could be better, and it’s hardly a breath before they’re moldering in the cellar and a bright new thing, better than the old, becomes the apple of your eye.

Oh, don’t worry – Leo’s fine – I haven’t found anything better than he yet, but your thoughts and commiseration might light on my flat little cast iron grill pan. Poor thing.

I always really loved that small pan that I got down in Boston’s North End a couple of years ago. Now that I think of it, what’s wrong with that statement? Now that I think about it that pan has resided in my kitchen for 20 years or more, that’s all. That’s what a ‘coup’la’ refers to as you get older. It was a time when several women friends would do weekends in Boston, go to the Faneuil Hall Market on Saturday and slide freshly opened oysters down our gullets, pick up fresh garlic (gasp) shoots in February, and other at-that-time esoteric things, and lug gallons of Italian olive oil back to the hotel. I found the pan in the front of a great little combination Italian ingredient/utensil/eating place where we’d stopped for dessert after a winey dinner elsewhere. We went to Jasper White’s restaurant then, and the food was top-notch and so was the service, and Jasper would always come over to say hi. We went to Lydia Shire’s Biba, wonderful food, extraordinarily expensive. As well, we went to Legal Seafood and other Boston tourist attractions. I lugged that heavy little pan back to the hotel and back to Vermont.

The secret is to get that pan really hot (turn on the exhaust fan), until heat waves are distorting reality and then slap on your perfectly formed hamburger patties (2) or pork chops (2), either rubbed with garlic and sprinkled liberally with salt and pepper, and let’er rip. For the hamburgers I do 4 minutes on one side, flip ‘em, cover them with a deep pan cover and turn the heat off. When the sound of sizzling fat quiets you will take off the cover and find perfectly caramelized and marked meats, the hamburger will be perfectly (medium) done. The pork chops, if thick, the way I like them, are grilled sizzling 4 minutes per side and then will be ready to do 20 minutes in a 375° oven to be juicy and done just right – to me that means the juices run brown, not pink. Sorry, can’t get around pink pork, which some cooks are calling for now that the danger of trichinosis is deemed to be over.

What you’ll also have is spattered grease in a three foot aura around that great little grill pan to clean up.
So after all these years, I had an idea – why not replace the flat grill pan with a larger grill pan with frying-pan sides? Lodge made one that I’d seen, and wouldn’t that do a lot toward containing the mess, especially with a spatter screen. Which wouldn’t work with the flat pan.

Well. Good idea. But I did not act on it, would only think of it when I was cleaning up the mess. Then yesterday I went down to the basement to get a package of hamburger out of the freezer, and what should my eye rest upon? Why, upon a high-sided cast-iron grill pan, part of my daughter’s storage while she’s off conquering the world. It’s been sitting there for three years. My eye must have ignored it several thousand times.

I cleaned it up – it was a little rusty and dusty from the damp and dusty cellar – anointed it with olive oil and let it sit on the pilot light for most of the day, then grilled up some pork chops that very night. It was the BEST pork chop I’ve ever had. I voiced those sentiments, and Leo said, “I believe it might be.” It was tender. Juicy. FULL of healthy pork flavor. I began to think about it. I’d gotten them at the Farmers’ market on Saturday, from Greg Cox at Boardman Hill Farm. “Why do you suppose they’re so good,” asked Leo. Well, Greg is the only pork producer I know of who lets his pigs forage in a forested hillside, which is how pigs like to live, and which means that they don’t have to eat as much grain or slops (sorry about that, but those are the facts), and maybe their bodies make healthier, better-tasting meat when they live and eat as they are made to live and eat. In addition, Greg tells me that his pigs are free-feeders, which means that there’s always organic grain for them to eat when they like, AND his pigs are not pushed to slaughter weight. They grow naturally and are killed later.

I trust that is enough of a recipe for making great pork chops. I like to grill some fruit with them, some halved and cored apples, maybe, a slice or two of pineapple. That’s it.

We and the pigs thank you, Greg!

1 comment:

El said...

I adore my cast-iron pans, and can completely sympathize with you schlepping a pan around in your luggage: I am known to do the same when hiking, packing a rather heavy 10" number when we go. In a backpack. (Yes, I am a bit of a loon, but then again, it's MY back, and my stomach too.)

You HAVE attempted to use your pans as meat-tenderizers, too, haven't you?

Great adventure with the chops, though! I did the exact same thing with my first spin back on the meat wagon, searing some pork chops on the stove. Revelatory. So much better than those dessicated things fed to me by my worm-fearing mother! I couldn't believe it, in fact, I think I screamed, or at least hooted, when I ate them. Good for you, finding Greg!