I found myself, this morning by my sink in my new kitchen’s scullery, scouring the pan in which I fried pork chops last night. I do not have a full time maid, or helper, as I say these days, implying a less servile situation. On the days that she is not here, I at most stack the dishwasher. I am living with a man who finds washing up dishes therapeutic, so sometimes I don’t even have to to that. But this morning, while he was teaching his sax student in the studio, I got stuck into scrubbing and scouring that pan, the detergent dripping off the edge of my hand, the vague ammonia smell bringing up a strong memory of my mother using Vim and steel wool on her pots. And my grandmother who measured the worth of a woman on how shiny her pots were: aluminium in those days… and so connecting me to a generation of women who did their housework themselves. Truth be told: I love housework. I love cleaning bathrooms and I love polishing furniture. I do not like vacuuming so much, nor washing floors… I think it’s all about the smell of detergents and furniture oil and polish. And maybe the learnt pride, from a grandma, in a gleaming pot or pan or bathroom tap or kitchen sink. I don’t think that I want to do that as a day job though, for others!
This blogpost, however, is not about a 50’s housewifely pride in gleaming pots. It is about how I cooked pork chops last night. It’s almost about THAT I cooked pork chops at all! I have not cooked a pork chop, or any other chop for that matter for years and years: bar on the very odd occasion of a barbecue. And even then it usually is lamb chops.
The night before last we were thinking of going to a favourite local restaurant, which has a great, very simple, crumbed pork chop dish, served with creamed potatoes, and which my beloved often orders. We stayed in after all, but last night, filled with some trepidation, I decided to cook us some pork chops. Trepidation because I think they are particularly tricky to cook perfectly. I remembered having pork chops as a child quite often. I tried to remember how my mom cooked them: I could not. I think oven roasted, the fat thick and translucent and the rind crackling under teeth, but the flesh often dry. A taste memory remains of that. I flipped through various cookbooks, but the humble pork chop is very seldom the stuff recipes are written about. Belly of pork, yes. Rack of pork, yes. Maybe because really, it’s about simply pan frying a well seasoned chop, watching and waiting so that it does not get overcooked. Undercooked is also Not Good: is it not pork which can carry such things as tapeworm larvae? (that is what my association always has been, also from childhood:after the first time I saw a tapeworm in a glass jar preserved in the biology lab at school, I decided to not eat pork again. It lasted throughout my high schools years).
In the end I relied on my culinary nous. Which covers the essentials of cooking and a little bit more, which years of reading recipes like novels, trying out different dishes, and watching cookery programs brings. I simply pan-fried the chops, starting off by holding each chop with a pair of tongs, rind and fat side flush against the searingly hot pan until the fat was cooked through, before flipping it flat. A little labour intensive. And then watching carefully until the meat was just cooked, still slightly pink, before putting all 4 chops in an oven pan into a medium hot oven to finish cooking. As I stood cooking, my eyes fell on half a pomegranate in a little glass bowl: broken open, arils left over from a dish I made on Sunday night, on the counter next to the stove. And I had a rare (for me: I am a conventional cook) flash of inspiration: to deglaze the pan with white wine and make a pomegranate jus for the chops.
It looked and tasted sensational. I served the chops not with creamed potato, but creamed cauliflower and pan-seared baby marrow. A palpable success. Pork and pomegranate. When I googled this combination, I found quite a couple of recipes, the pomegranate sauce mostly pureed. So of course my moment of inspiration was not of earth shattering importance in the cooking world. But on our plates it seemed very impressive, and beautiful too: pan browned pork chops, on the bone, the crackling crispy in that bubbly way it gets; with a drizzle of ruby red jus, the arils glittering like real gems, tasting sweetly of honey and slightly sour of wine, accentuating the essential taste of pomegranate. A new dinner party dish, I think!