Made for each other: Sweet onions, savory chops

by Terry B on October 24, 2007

Red wine, apricot preserves and curry lend a sweet touch to savory chops. Recipe below.

What is it about pork that plays so nicely with sweet flavors? Marion made some wonderful lemon ricotta pancakes with sautéed apples for breakfast Sunday [yes, I photographed them—they will be a post one of these days]. Tasting the apples, which had been sautéed in butter with some sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice, I said they would also be great with something savory. Marion immediately said, “Pig meat!”

Pork has a natural sweetness that lends itself beautifully to sweet/savory combinations. It also has a richness to it—even with today’s leaner pork production methods—which is a perfect foil to sweet additions.

In the past, I’ve sweetened pork with pears for Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Pears and Onions. And I’ve combined it with dried plums to make Pork Chops with Port Sauce. The sweetness in this week’s dish comes from sweet red onion, sautéed and mixed with apricot preserves. You don’t actually caramelize the onion, which would bring out its sweetness more completely, but would also take anywhere from 20 minutes to more than an hour depending on whose recipe you believe. But even sautéing the onion until tender, less than 10 minutes even, begins to caramelize the natural sugar in the onion, and adding an apricot preserves mixture at the end further ups the sweetness quotient.

The sweetness of this dish is subtle, not the overpoweringly cloying taste of sweet and sour pork, for instance. I can’t take a dish like that seriously—don’t feel as if I’m eating a meal so much as eating a dessert with meat in it. The apricots disappear into the onions, adding their sugar without their signature flavor.

The curry powder also brings a bit of complex sweetness to the party, along with a nice depth—and possibly a little heat, depending on the curry powder you use. I used Hot Curry Powder from The Spice House, which added a decided kick. Curry powder, by the way, is a British invention dating back to their colonial rule of India. Indian cooks often make their own curry blends from the wealth of spices readily available to them. Pre-mixed curry powder was an easy way for Brits to take some of the wonderful flavors they’d found back home to England with them.

For sides, you can go a few directions. You can stick with the curry theme and look for Indian or Indian-inspired dishes, such as the cumin-spiked Coconut Rice Pilaf I cooked as for Biryani Chicken Breasts.

You can also take the pan-Asian route. While curries began in India and are most associated with Indian cuisine, their use has spread throughout much of Asia—and indeed the world.

Or you can let these chops take center stage, serving them with simple sides like mashed potatoes and steamed green beans or a salad, for instance. That way, the chops become the focus of the meal, instead of competing against other big, exotic flavors. What I like about this approach is that dinner isn’t suddenly about an Indian, pan-Asian or other global dining adventure; it’s about borrowing from various cultures and cuisines to put a delicious, memorable meal on the table.

Pork Chops with Sweet Curried Onion
Serves 2 [can be doubled]

2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons apricot preserves
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red onion, halved and sliced thin
1-1/2 teaspoons curry powder
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 thick bone-in pork chops [about 1 pound total—see Kitchen Notes]

In a small bowl stir together water and preserves. Heat a large non-stick skillet over moderate flame until hot, but not smoking. Add oil and onion to pan, stirring to mix and coat onion with oil. Don’t be alarmed by the volume of the onion—it cooks down considerably. Cook until onion is softened, about 6 to 8 minutes, stirring in curry powder halfway through. Stir onion frequently throughout the cooking process to keep it from burning. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onions to bowl with preserves mixture, stir to combine and season with salt and pepper.

Pat pork chops dry with paper towel and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Add more olive oil to skillet, if needed, and raise heat to medium high—you probably will need to, since the curry powder soaks it up. Sauté chops until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side [see Kitchen Notes]. Transfer chops to individual plates and tent with foil to keep warm, if needed. Add curried onion and apricot preserves mixture to pan and heat through, about 1 minute, scraping up browned bits in skillet. Top chops with onion mixture. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

Pork chops, bones and doneness. First, do use bone-in chops—they’re more flavorful than boneless chops and look cooler too. Regarding doneness, don’t cook chops to death. Current pork production methods, at least in the U.S., have pretty much eliminated issues with trichinosis, so a little pink inside is okay. Of course, these same pork production methods have greatly reduced the fat content, causing pork to dry out when overcooked.

Also this week in Blue Kitchen

Poet Robert Frost makes me think about butt bumps. Poetry and personal space, at WTF? Random food for thought.

Great jazz comes in threes. Sax player Joe Lovano is rightly fascinated with trios, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Toni October 24, 2007 at 6:13 am

OK, I give up. This week’s post sent me over the edge! I practically jumped out of my seat when I saw your photo and the title of the post. Oh, yes!!! And then adding curry powder? Dude…..Where do you GET these ideas? I have no doubt whatsoever that I will be making a Toni version of this dish in the near future!

Nicole October 24, 2007 at 6:17 am

We ate pork chops with pears last night! I marinated the bone-in chops for a couple hours in some homemade teriyaki then grilled the pork chops and pears side by side (on the outdoor grill, not a grill pan). I cooked some plain quinoa for a side dish. While the meat was on the grill, I boiled down the marinade to make a sauce and spooned it over the fruit and quinoa. It turned out really well considering I just kind of made it up as I went :-)

I think your pork chops sound great! I think curry and apricot would make a nice glaze for a pork tenderloin, too! I’m also glad you mentioned preferring bone-in chops. I refuse to buy the boneless ones anymore. It doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t keep boneless pork chops from drying out too much.

Lydia October 24, 2007 at 12:21 pm

I’m not a pig person, but I can think of lots of things that would love to have those onions as a side dish. Grilled chicken breasts, or salmon, would be delicious.

Kalyn October 24, 2007 at 12:38 pm

Terry, this looks like a complete winner! Great photo too!

Jennifer Hess October 24, 2007 at 2:21 pm

Oh, yum. I bet they’d be amazing with duck breast as well. Totally on the list to try!

Curt October 24, 2007 at 2:25 pm

An old Brady Bunch episode always comes to mind when I think of porkchops… Peter was trying to find his identity, and he started doing a Bogart impersonation (badly, of course). He asked what they were having for dinner, and then started saying ‘pork chops and applesauce” in that really bad impersonation. I still at least think that in my head, and might even say it.

I think the sweetness of pork just lends itself to sweet sauces and flavors. Terry, those onions look incredible, and they’d go with just about anything, I think. Have you tried it with balsamic vinegar in the onions, too?

Terry B October 24, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Toni—Looking forward to your take on this. I love how you and I sometimes take each other’s recipes and put our own spins on them.

Nicole—Every once in a great while, I’ll cook with boneless chops. Mainly, I’ll just use them when I’m cutting the pork up beforehand for a stir fry or something, though.

Lydia, Jennifer and Curt—One of the cool things about cooking the onions this way is that they can indeed stand alone and adapt to other dishes. They don’t rely on the pork [or duck or chicken or whatever] to enhance their flavor during cooking. However, cooking the chops [or whatever] in the skillet after the onions imparts a slight curry flavor to the chops as well. Curt, I haven’t tried balsamic in the onions—would probably be great. I’ve also thought of throwing in minced garlic at the end, but haven’t tried it yet.

Kalyn—Thanks! With the changing seasons, I’m forced to use artificial light again—always a challenge when you’re spoiled by window light most of the year. On the up side, I’m not playing beat the clock with the setting sun. I actually took this shot about 9:30 last night.

Katiez October 24, 2007 at 7:23 pm

Pork really goes amazingly well with so many flavors…as do the onions!
Great dish! Lovely, nice, thick chops! I need to find a different butcher…

Melinda October 25, 2007 at 10:43 pm

Pork chops and sweet onions sound divine.
But I love the Borrowed milk, butt bumps and poetry post. I enjoyed it so much!
I hadn’t heard of the Travis Ruse subway pictures. Loved looking at that.

Susan from Food Blogga October 26, 2007 at 12:13 am

I just made pork chops with an apple-shallot chutney, and I tried it with pears which were quite good too. Pork is so versatile, isn’t it? And that photo is utterly delicious.

Terry B October 26, 2007 at 12:48 am

Katiez and Susan—Pork really is versatile, isn’t it? And Susan, the apple shallot chutney sounds wonderful.

Melinda—Thank you! I love Ruse’s photographs. And I’m always happy when readers click through to my side posts, WTF? and the kitchen boombox.

Christina October 27, 2007 at 5:18 am

Yum. Pork, pork, the glorious pig. Everytime I think I’ve decided on some other meat as my favorite, some tempting pig dish like this comes my way and makes me waver towards pork once again. Thanks for sharing the combo of curry and curly (tail, that is). It looks like a winner.

chocolateshavings October 27, 2007 at 10:28 pm

That dish really looks amazing! I totally agree about how well pork goes with sweet and savory combinations. I made apple-brined pork chops a little while ago, and they were delicious.

I love your idea of curry and onions to accompany the pork.. so I will have to try out that combination soon!

Jenn

Patricia October 28, 2007 at 2:07 am

The German-Portuguese side of the family (my mom’s) is absolutely crazy for pork, Terry – I know this would be a hit there.

I’ll be waiting for Marion’s pancakes!

ann October 30, 2007 at 12:47 pm

Sweet-curried onions. That’s a fun concept! There was a cool article by the Lee Brothers in last week’s NY Times about the onions grown in a glacial area north of Manhattan and how they’re the best. I have always bought these onions and just assumed I was being my typical Upstate booster in thinking they were amazing… Funny. I bet this would be a great way to highlight their deliciousness. Thanks for the idea!

Steve November 1, 2007 at 11:30 pm

I’ve been drooling over this one since it hit my RSS reader. Made it tonight and we weren’t disappointed. Used thick bone-in chops and followed the recipe pretty closely. The curry powder I used was an especially hot mixture from my local health food store that we had and it worked really well. Served the chops with steamed green beans and roasted potatoes that I roasted at 500 degrees F. for about 30 minutes turning a few times as they cooked. I added a few cloves of minced garlic to the potatoes after they were done and let the residual heat cook the garlic. Good combo. Yum.

Thanks for a great, simple recipe.

Scott November 12, 2007 at 12:09 am

Wow, that’s a good lookin chop! Consider this recipe stolen…

David Hall December 14, 2007 at 10:43 pm

Thanks for stopping by Terry – and great Blog by the way. How is Chicago today?

The peppers you commented on would go perfectly with these chops. You are right about good simple food and unwinding after a hard day, and great food should not take an age to make.

Keep in touch.

Cheers
David

Holly Cuperus June 8, 2013 at 2:57 am

I made this for dinner tonight but used fig preserves instead of apricot. So delicious.

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