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.
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.
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