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Pork Chops in Tomato,
Wine and Pepper Sauce
By Charlie Burke

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The first dish that I ever cooked was pork chops simmered in an electric skillet
with sliced onion, green pepper and canned tomatoes. I was eleven or twelve,
and on occasions when my folks would be late getting home for dinner I would
sometimes find a note telling me that the chops were in the refrigerator and to
please have them cooked by dinner time.

I don’t think I browned the chops, but I always sliced an onion and a green
pepper to add to a can of whole tomatoes. They were cooked, covered, over
fairly slow heat and were tender and moist with a flavorful sauce when done.
Over the years, I would add the occasional can of mushrooms (fresh were not
available in our local markets) and began adding oregano or sage, but the basic
process remained the same. When I reached high school my forays into the
kitchen ended, to be resumed when I had children of my own.

Recently, my wife, Joanne saw a recipe for “Corsican Brined Pork Chops”.  The
pork was brined with herbs, dried and seared over high heat. Herbs, wine, olives
and several other ingredients were added, and the dish was finished in ten
minutes. I felt that the recipe was a little fussy for a weeknight and doubted that
the cooking time was long enough for thick chops. Certainly brining the pork
increases moistness, but recent reports indicate that lean modern pork requires
slow cooking over lower temperatures or it will not be tender. The pork that I
was cooking years ago was darker and marbleized with fat, while today’s “other
white meat” is bred to be much leaner.

In Italy, I’ve had pork prepared similarly to this recipe and to the way it was
done in our house, so I decided to update my old recipe. With no time to brine
the chops, simmering the meat in the cooking liquid over low heat would give it
time to become tender and to absorb flavor. I chose thick center cut chops and
also bought some boneless “country style bottom pork spare ribs” which were
darker and less dense than the loin of the chops and certain to be tender if the
chops were not.

Shallots and garlic were sautéed and a can of organic whole tomatoes were
added and reduced instead of adding them directly with all their juices. The
meat was browned over high heat and removed from the pan which was then
deglazed with dry white wine and a cup of home made chicken stock. Having
done this well ahead, final preparation requires little attention and can be held
until dinner time.

Two portions:

2 1 ½ inch thick center cut pork chops, *locally raised, if available (12-14 ounces
of boneless bottom pork spare ribs may be substituted).
28 ounces home canned tomatoes or best quality commercial tomatoes (I use
Muir Glenn)
2 large shallots or 1 medium onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra virgin olive oil for the sauce and for browning
¾ cup dry white wine
¾ cup good quality chicken stock
1 Bell pepper, preferably red or yellow, in ¼ inch slices
2 sprigs of fresh sage, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried
2 sprigs fresh marjoram, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried (oregano or herbes de
Provence may be substituted for either the sage or marjoram)

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoon of olive oil.
Sauté the shallots and garlic until softened (3-4 minutes). Add the tomatoes,
mashing them to release juice. Turn the heat to medium-high, add salt and
pepper to taste and boil until juices are no longer runny and tomatoes have
thickened (10-15 minutes).

While the sauce is cooking, heat a second sauté pan over medium-high heat and
film the bottom with olive oil. Generously season the pork on both sides with
salt and pepper and place into the pan. Cook the chops until golden brown on
both sides. If the meat sticks to the pan, leave it until it “releases”, by which time
it should be browned.

Remove the chops from the pan and pour off the fat. Over medium-high heat,
deglaze the pan, adding the wine first and then the stock after the alcohol has
boiled off.

Reduce the heat to low, add the meat, 1 ½ cups of tomato sauce, the pepper and
the herbs. Cover and simmer over very low heat until the meat feels tender when
probed with a thin, sharp knife (approximately 30 minutes). Taste the sauce and
add salt and pepper as needed and serve immediately.  If it is done ahead, it can
be cooled and refrigerated or left out for up to 2 hours. Reheat over a low flame.

The chops were quite tender at thirty minutes, but I must confess that the spare
ribs were more so. I’ve also used these spare ribs sliced into thin strips and stir
fried and found them to be more moist and tender than other cuts. The sauce was
rich, and the peppers add a pleasant accent. Red and yellow peppers are less
harsh than green peppers, which are unripe. The wine and herbs give this recipe
a Mediterranean flair, but it really wasn’t far from what was prepared long ago in
my Mom’s New England kitchen! We served it with Israeli couscous and a salad
of endive and radicchio. A fruity Zinfandel or Pinot Noir would go well, but we
had a glass of dry Riesling which really worked.

*In New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont farms are selling fresh pork raised locally. This
pork has more flavor and is not artificially lean as is industrial pork. I find that local pork,
even if frozen, is more tender and rich than what comes from the supermarket. Your state’s
department of agriculture can supply a list of local growers.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather
Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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