As the availability of good, fat-marbled pork has risen, so has my adoration of that stalwart favorite, the bone-in pork chop.
Things used to be different.
For years, pigs were put on a diet, then served up lean and mean, without much internal fat to lubricate and flavor their brawny flesh. (Remember “the other white meat” ad campaign?) The result was often chewy, bland and dry. Not nearly as good as bacon and therefore, in my mind, not worth eating.
You can still certainly find lean pork chops, and if you like them, feel free to use them in this recipe. But the more succulent, dark pink meat of thick-cut chops, most likely raised on small farms, is probably in the supermarket refrigerator case right alongside the skinnier chops.
Look for a creamy layer of fat surrounding the meat and bone — this is a sign of something good.
For the cook, the fat serves several purposes: It insulates the meat, keeping it juicier for longer, giving you a larger margin of error when it comes to cooking. Even if you overshoot your target temperature, the fat protects the flesh, keeping it moist.
Fat also adds flavor, meaning you don’t need to do too much to your chops beyond adding a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper to make them taste fantastic.
This said, marinating the chops can make them even better. Here, I smear them with a paste of turmeric, tamarind, cumin, chilies, garlic, ginger and a touch of fish sauce.
It’s not a flavor combination that’s authentic to any one place, but the sour, pungent and salty notes all go together beautifully.
A brief stint of high-heat searing followed by a jaunt to the oven allows the edges of the chops to caramelize and the center to cook a little more slowly.
If you are grilling instead of roasting, a combination of direct heat and indirect heat yields similar results.
I like my pork chops cooked between medium-rare and medium, with meat that’s distinctly pink and juicy. I aim for an internal temperature of 135 degrees and let the meat rest for a few minutes, allowing the temperature to rise and the juices to reabsorb. Then I carve it off the bone and serve it in slices.
With all the aromatics in the marinade, these chops don’t need a sauce, though a spoonful or two of the drippings makes them glisten and intensifies their already wonderfully rich flavor: the taste of good, fatty pork.
Pork Chops With Tamarind, Turmeric and Ginger
- 2 thick, bone-in pork chops, (2 pounds total)
- 2 tablespoons coconut, grapeseed or safflower oil
- Thinly sliced scallions, for serving
- Lime wedges, for serving
- >> Spice mix:
- 3 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
- 1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate (or extract), or lime juice (see note)
- 1 tablespoon sambal oelek or other chili paste
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
- 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
Combine spice mix ingredients in a large bowl. Rub evenly over pork, and let marinate at least 1 hour, up to overnight.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Scrape spice mix off the pork, reserving it (there will be a tablespoon or two).
Place chops in pan and sear on one side until well browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Use tongs to hold chops vertically to sear fat on edges, another 2 to 3 minutes.
Flip chops so browned side is on top. Stir reserved spice mix into drippings. Transfer pan to oven and cook chops to desired doneness, about 8 minutes for a lightly pink inside (135 degrees).
Transfer chops to a plate or cutting board and let rest 5 minutes. Slice meat off bones and serve coated with pan drippings, scallions and lime wedges. Serves 4.
Note: Asian Grocery, 1319 S. Beretania St., carries tamarind concentrate. Powdered tamarind soup mix is more commonly found at other Asian markets and may be mixed with water to make this dish.
And to drink …
The spicy, sour flavors of this dish are often tricky to pair with wine, but with good pork chops, those flavors will simply accent the savory richness of the meat.
Among whites, opt for a riesling, either a dry German or Austrian bottle, or a lightly sweet kabinett. The herbal, peppery flavors of gruner veltliner would work well, as would a grassy, mineral sauvignon blanc as long as it is not oaky or tropical-fruity. You could also try a pinot blanc or a sylvaner from Alsace.
If you prefer a red, I would look for something fresh, lightly fruity, with perhaps a touch of bitterness and no oak, such as an inexpensive cabernet franc from the Loire Valley, a cru Beaujolais or maybe a dolcetto or barbera from northwestern Italy.
— Eric Asimov, New York Times