So the cover picture for those astute readers is not of Boneless Pork Chops with Honey Gremolata. But it is the Chapa which is one of the seven fires that Francis Mallmann talks about in his superb book Seven Fires – Grilling the Argentine Way. If you are a lover of food cooked over fire this is a must have book. Francis evocatively describes how cooking with wood is a constant learning curve. I wont try myself but will leave it to the man himself to describe.
“Cooking with wood fire is like going on a first date. It is something that you look forward to with great anticipation and a little anxiety. You can never know exactly what the conditions will be………every time you cook over wood outdoors, you are starting fresh in a strange kitchen.”
He details the Seven Fires which are pretty much seven different ways to cook over wood from the standard grill we all know, Parrilla. The flat top, Chapa. The Infiernillo which is pretty much a fire above and a fire below. The wood fired oven, Horno de Barro. The Rescaoldo which is pretty much covering food with hot embers. The Asador which is pretty much whole beasts “crucified” and tied to a cross over a fire pit, there is a wonderful series of photos for the meat obsessed about him cooking a whole cow this way. Finally not to the missed the cast iron pot or Dutch Oven, Caldero. This is one of those books I have read numerous time but rarely cooked from as my tiny inner city backyard is not place for these elaborate fire pits. It was the only book that would send me off looking at real estate pages of houses in the suburbs so I could have my own collection of seven fires!!
I get the smell of a wood fire, I love the smell of food cooked over and around wood, but I couldn’t really describe why. Again Francis has stepped up and summarised the feeling I have always had to fire cooked food way more elegantly than I could in a small section called “The Taste of Burnt”
“I adore dissonance in food – two tastes fighting each other…….charring or even burning adds an extra dimension……a burnt tomato has a dark crust bordering on bitter, while the inside is soft and gentle in texture and taste.”
He then goes on further into a great rant about how harmony in food is all wrong and disharmony calls into focus the individual elements. This is my church, this is the gospel I subscribe to…..
Now on to an actual cooking process and recipe. For those of you who started with the formative posts of this blog would have already jumped to this by now as you are well aware all things start with a background story, then into the action!!
So Pork with Honey Gremolata. Straight away there are alarm bells in my head. I do not like cooking with sweet things for savory courses, its against the laws of nature. Kind of like ham and pineapple pizza, a total abomination!! Moving on from the sweet tragedy is that the great thing about this recipe is its a nice easy simple one that most people can do at home. You dont need a Chapa in the backyard fueled with a months supply of timber. The same concept can be done a home stove or back yard grill. See thats the point of recipe books, not everything has to be highly complex and take hours of work, a good cook book takes you through the journey of the complex and the simple and at the same time gives you some great tips for easy cooking in the future. This recipe is one of those. Its ideal for a mid week cook and thats how I approached it, Tuesday night after work. Its simple really, pretty much get pork, bash till half as thin, add some tasty ingredients and cook hot……
Lets start with the Gremolata. There are in my mind usually two forms for Gremolata based on the same foundation. Parsley, Garlic and Lemon. In its purest form for me is finely chopped equal parts of each over Osso Bucco, doesnt get any better. Then there is the wet form that uses olive oil to create more of a sloppy dressing…..and this one has honey, cant seem to move on from that.
From the photo above assembled the ingredients and in addition to the usual suspects is a bit of oregano and of course some great Curious Fox olive oil from our friends Karen and John from Spring Creek Grove (mindless plug, send us some more!!!)
Gremolata now chopped up and put aside, now onto the pork chops. Usually being the obsessive fuck that I am I would have bought a whole side of some organic pig that was killed by being ticked to death and then bring it home and hand butcher each chop for the perfect size ratio and trim. Or you could just buy the already pre-trimmed and bone removed individual packs from Wegmans.
First step is to pull them from the pack. Pat dry with paper towel and then place between two sheets of plastic wrap or if your a tight arse you can use one sheet folded over like in the picture above. So the point of this is to start with an approx 1″ thick slice of pork chop and beat it till around half inch thick. This does a couple of things, makes it faster to cook, makes the piece of pork look larger on the plate, and also hopefully tenderises a pretty average piece of commercial pork.
So here is why I love recipe books. They give me free authority to buy more kitchen stuff. First step says pound meat with a meat mallet, dont have a meat mallet, go to Amazon and order one. So not having one and tonight is cook night what to do. Grab the rolling pin you last used to make that great pastry and launch it into the meat. It will forgive you for crossing food groups. Once that is done you get a pretty much half the thickness but maybe double the surface area piece of pork.
Next thing is to smother one side with finely chopped garlic, fresh rosemary and plenty of salt and pepper. Put aside ready to cook. So Gremolata done and put aside, meat bashed and covered with “flavourings” what next. Well firstly meat needs at least one veg so what to do, whats in the cupboard, potato’s and asparagus. What could go wrong.
Time for a potato galette in the pan. Again this is something covered off later in Francis’ book.
Firstly finely slice some spuds, nothing special just some good sized ones with skin left on for texture. Try and make them nice thin consistent slices and keep together without washing, we want the natural starch to hold it together.
Now if you had a Chapa in the backyard roaring hot ready to go then you would wander outside and start cooking. Us mere mortals in the middle of a US winter are less lucky, next option would be a great cast iron pan on the stove top (something else I need to buy) or just simply a good old fry pan. So get it to a nice medium heat and add some clarified butter and start assembling the potato in the pan starting with the bigger slices to the outside and smaller to the centre till like the picture below.
Add some more butter and put something heavy on top, like maybe a slightly smaller fry pan with some weight and cook for 10 min. Now the hard part, time to turn over. So if you have 4 hands, lots of spatulas, egg flips, fish flips, etc you can probably turn it over whole in one go. I just use the plate on top, quick flip and slide back in trick so you end up with the picture below of this nice and crispy potato galette. What could be easier. Add the same weight again and cook for a bit more till done.
Now on to the Pork. Now I dont have a Chapa ready to go but I do have a back yard grill to work with. As this requires a flat surface I turned the Grill Grates upside down to create a flat hot surface. Now it really needed to be hotter but it was -2C outside and I was standing there in a t-shirt pretending things were warmer. Put the pork on fun side down to start with which means garlic and rosemary side down. Next is a mindless picture of another gadget I have that tells me stuff is hot (sorry about the poor quality, I was starting to shiver!!)
After about 5min flip it over and cook till right temp all through. The plate should have been hotter as really wanted that nice brown caramelization to start but this will do for tonight.
Finally pull it off and rest while assemble the rest of the ingredients. See how the garlic has a nice brown but not burnt texture, thats good, more meat brown would be better.
Now assemble with the potato, some asparagus that was lying around in the fridge and top with gremolata. Yes it does work, I get the addition to the honey to the gremolata, its a nice way to break the other flavours and definately follows the rules of discordant flavours. Would work particularly well if there was more char on the pork.
A big thanks to Pete French who picked this recipe out last weekend during one of our drunken festivals of food and beverages. A great pick and one that could be easily transformed with what ever ingredients are spare in the fridge to create a simple meal with some great flavour profiles.
Now I know you are all holding your breath till next week but we are away for a bit on holidays so could be a few weeks till next update.
If I follow the drunken picks of friends the next one could be snails, just need to find live ones…………