When people think of cooking pork chops, they usually go for pork loin. It can come with bone attached, called pork rack, or boneless. Some intrepid people roast the whole piece, others slice them into steaks.
However, the cut is not at all interesting to me, mainly because it is too lean.
Unless you sous vide the meat and then brown it before serving, or wrap the meat in bacon, it will turn out dry.
Since I do not have a sous vide machine, but am hankering after pork chops, I head out to the supermarket to see what other options there are. I see a tray of pork collar and home in on it like a heat-seeking missile. You can buy it whole from the butcher or get it in slices from the supermarket. The marbling on the meat makes me think it is possible to have juicy pork chops with none of the bland flavour of the loin.
Pork collar, also called neck fillet, has a great flavour and a springy texture, provided you do not overcook it. I have used it to make char siew with great success.
In the name of trying something different, I resist the urge to make a char siew marinade and go with honey and mustard. It is one of those no-fail flavour combinations that I love. On my first try, the pork tastes great, but is missing some pep.
MAKE IT YOURSELF: HONEY MUSTARD PORK CHOPS
6 pieces of pork collar, about 150g each and 1.5 to 2cm thick (below)
75g Dijon mustard
1 tsp salt
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
1. Rinse the pork under running water, pat very dry with paper towels. If you want, pound the meat with a meat mallet. Place the pork in a resealable plastic bag or a medium-sized mixing bowl.
2. Combine the mustard, honey, salt and lemon zest in a bowl, stir well to mix. Have a taste and add more salt if needed. Scrape the marinade into the bag or bowl with the pork. Using your hands, massage the marinade into the meat so that every piece is well coated. Refrigerate overnight.
3. Wrap the zested lemon in clingwrap and store in the fridge.
4. About 30 minutes before cooking, take the pork out of the fridge. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C.
5. Line a large baking tray (I use the one that comes with the oven) with foil, shiny side up. Place a flat metal rack (the kind used for cooling cakes and cookies) on the tray.
6. Remove the pork from the marinade and use a teaspoon to scrape off as much of the honey-mustard mixture as possible. Discard the marinade. Place the pork on the metal rack. After the 30 minutes are up, place the tray in the top half of the oven. Let it cook for 20 to 25 minutes.
7. Turn on the grill function of the oven so that the heat comes only from the top. Move the tray as close to the top heating element as possible. Let it cook 6 to 8 minutes, watching carefully that the chops only singe in parts, but do not become completely black.
8. Remove the tray from the oven and let the pork cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
9. Meanwhile, core the apple and slice or cut into cubes. Squeeze the lemon over the apple and coat the pieces with the juice, to prevent the fruit from oxidising. Drain. Lay the salad greens on a large serving platter, scatter the apple over the leaves.
10. Slice the pork thinly or thickly, or leave it whole and place over the vegetables. Serve.
Serves four to six
So I decide to add another one of my favourite flavour enhancers - lemon zest. It makes sense from a home economics point of view because I am using lemon juice to prevent the apples I am serving with the pork from oxidising. No lemon should go into the bin without every bit of flavourful zest removed from it first.
The hit of lemon proves to be just what I need for the chops. It helps to tame the sweetness of the honey and gives it a fresh note that I enjoy very much.
Marinate the pork overnight in the fridge and the next day, there is very little work to be done to get it to the table.
Instead of dealing with oil splashes and using an extra pan, I cook the chops entirely in the oven.
To ensure I do not have to flip the chops halfway through the cooking, I place them on a metal rack set over a baking try, to allow the heat to circulate around the chops.
I find that cooking the chops for 20 minutes leaves them a little pink in the middle.
It is perfectly safe to eat, but some people will feel squeamish. So cook the pork for 25 minutes if you are worried.
Before taking them out of the oven, turn on the grill setting, where the heat comes from the top element. Place the chops as close to the top as possible to brown them.
Just watch that the pork does not burn. Browning is not the same as blackening.
After a rest, the meat can be sliced or left whole and placed on a platter before serving. I add soft salad greens and cubed apple, because the fruit goes well with pork.
There are other options, of course. Stuff the pork into toasted and buttered buns for a quick snack or serve it with steamed vegetables and buttered pasta.
In the late 1980s, the National Pork Board in the United States started a campaign to bill pork as an alternative to healthy chicken or turkey. The slogan from that unfortunate campaign was "Pork. The Other White Meat''.
Cooler heads prevailed in this part of the world, where pork belly continued to thrill and delight.
Today, there are even more options for people who love to eat pork. There is Mangalica (pronounced mangalitsa) pork from fat Hungarian pigs, full of beautiful marbling. And nobody looking at a piece of pork collar would think it was white meat.
Between juicy and springy pork collar and rigid pork loin, I know which I'd pick.