A marketing strategy casting pork as the “other white meat” nearly destroyed one of the greatest American foodstuffs. American pork was lard-laden and delicious before a misguided effort toward nutrition made it dry, tough, and acidic. Pigs became as ropily muscled as pit bulls, and to eat a pork chop became an exercise to strengthen the muscles of the jaw.
In recent years, pig farmers have returned to breeding heritage pigs, with a focus on flavor rather than nutrition. Pork chops are once again worth eating and I strongly suggest doing so.
Mise en Place
- large bowl
- fine-mesh strainer
- large cast iron, or stainless steel skillet
- flat-edged wooden spatula
- pasta pot
- 2 sheet pans lined with parchment
- large, flat, clean work surface
- instant-read thermometer
- large bunch black, seedless grapes
- olive oil
- 1 lb whole-milk ricotta
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- healthy pinch nutmeg
- 1-1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups apple cider
- 1 cup salt, dissolved in 2 cups water
- 2 bay leaves
- several black peppercorns
- 4 crushed garlic cloves
- 4 thick cut pork chops
- canola oil
- 1/2 cup diced shallots
- 1/2 cup madeira
- 2 tsp dijon mustard
- 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tbs butter
1) Drain the ricotta and brine the pork chops. Place the ricotta in the refrigerator in a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Allow to drain for a few hours. Place the pork chops in a baking dish and cover with one-half apple cider, and one half salt-water solution. Add 2 bay leaves, several crushed black peppercorns, and three cloves crushed garlic. Cover and place in the refrigerator.
2) Roast the grapes. Toss the grapes in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Lay on a sheet pan lined with parchment and bake in a 400 degree oven for ten minutes. Remove and allow to cool before removing the grapes from their stem. Reserve
3) Make the gnocchi, as you bring a pasta pot of well-salted water to a boil, and remove the pork chops from the refrigerator, allowing them to come to room temperature. In a bowl mix together the ricotta, egg, cheese, nutmeg, and a healthy pinch of salt. Slowly mix in the flour until a cohesive mass forms that is only slightly tacky. Divide the dough into four pieces. On a floured work surface roll each into a one inch thick cylinder, divide each cylinder into pillow shaped gnocchi by slicing the cylinder at 3/4 inch intervals. Transfer the gnocchi to a lightly-floured parchment-lined sheet pan and place in the freezer.
4) Prepare the pork chops. Preheat your skillet over medium heat for several minutes. Add a thin coating of canola oil. Raise the heat to high and season the pork chops with salt. Place the pork chops in the pan and sear each side until well-browned. Transfer the skillet to a 400 degree oven. Bake until the center of the pork chop reaches 140 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Transfer the pork chops to paper towels to rest.
5) Make the pan sauce as you cook the gnocchi. Add the shallots to the skillet over medium heat. Plunge the gnocchi in rapidly boiling water. When they rise to the surface–about one minute–strain through a colander, reserving one cup pasta water. Once the shallots have softened, deglaze the pan with madeira, scraping as much fond as possible from the skillet with a straight-edged wooden spatula. Add the mustard and thyme and stir. Add the grapes and gnocchi to the skillet with 1/2 cup pasta water. Toss several times to incorporate the ingredients. Add butter and toss the contents of the pan several times to emulsify the sauce adding more pasta water if necessary. Season and transfer to serving dishes with pork chops.