We all know we eat with our eyes first. What makes this dish immediately appealing is the crosshatch grill marks that cover the surface of the double thick pork chops. The secret to the grill marks is a well-seasoned, hot-as-hell cast iron grill pan. This is one of my favorite pieces of cookware; it's well worth the investment.
Marinated with rosemary and honey, these pork chops are incredibly earthy and flavorful. Faithful readers will know that I like bold flavors (the amount of garlic in my Bolognese, for instance, may have alarmed some of you). This recipe uses generous amounts of rosemary. If you are not a devout fan of the herb, then feel free to lighten the amount. The pork chops shouldn’t suffer for it.
The recipe also calls for freshly baked cornbread because I prefer to know and regulate what goes into the stuffing. I also bake it longer than I would if I was eating the cornbread alone. I want to squeeze out most of the moisture so the bread will absorb as much of the pork juices as it can.
Finally, to accompany this cozy meal: Roasted, pillowy sweet potato “fries” that compliment the honey in the pork marinade. You can prep the potatoes while the pork chops are marinating and roast them while the pork cooks in the oven. When you pull the pork out to rest, switch your oven to broil to get the edges of the fries a little crispy and caramelized.
ROSEMARY-HONEY PORK CHOPS STUFFED WITH CORN BREAD
For the cornbread
2 cups cornmeal
2/3 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 hot pepper, minced (such as jalapeno)
1 cup buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
First, we'll make the marinade for the pork. Preferably you should let the pork marinate for four hours in the refrigerator, but at least let the chops chill out for one.
Break out the blender and toss in the scallions, shallots, garlic and the leaves from 5 rosemary sprigs. Start the motor running and add the oil through the hole in the blender lid. Add the honey in the same manner. Once the marinade is blended – it should be a lovely pastel green; let’s call it sea foam green – pour it into a Ziploc bag and add the chops with the remaining 2 rosemary sprigs, left whole. Before you tuck the bag away in the fridge be sure to give the chops a good massage through the plastic. Aside from getting the marinade into the meat, it's the least you can do for the poor guys you plan to sizzle.
While the chops marinate, let’s turn to the cornbread. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl – adding the salt to activate the baking powder – and then add your liquids until combined. When you have a thick canary-colored dough, pour it from the bowl into a baking dish. Cook it in the oven for about 30 minutes or until golden.
When the cornbread is finished, let it cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, crumble it up with your fingers.
All that’s left is to stuff the pork and cook it. So it’s a good time to turn to the fries.
4 sweet potatoes, washed
2 Tbsp sugar
1 pinch cinnamon
freshly ground black pepper, generous amounts
salt to taste
2 Tbsp oil
Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.
Cut each potato in half. Take each half and cut it lengthwise into strips of approximately equal thickness.
Cover a baking sheet with foil and pile the potato strips on top. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with cinnamon, sugar and salt. Get in there with your hands and mix it all up, making sure each fry gets its share of the seasoning. Then spread them into a single layer across the pan and go crazy with the pepper. The sweet-spicy play of the sugar with the pepper is what makes these fries so tasty. So don't skimp on the pepper.
Now pop the baking sheet into the oven and roast the fries for about 40 minutes on the top rack and then turn it to broil for a final 20 minutes.
STUFFING THE PORK AND COOKING UP THE PRETTIES
OK, time to fire up that cast iron grill pan. Get it smoking-hot on the stove top.
Meanwhile, grab the pork from the fridge and set each chop on your cutting board. Discard the marinade (although, if you fish out the whole rosemary sprigs you can use them for a lovely final presentation.) Using a sharp knife, carefully cut horizontal pockets into each chop. Stuff each pocket with a hearty handful of cornbread (about 3 Tbsp each). Season the stuffed chops with salt and pepper.
Now, sear the chops on the grill pan, rotating them a quarter turn to create that lovely crosshatch pattern. Don't turn them too soon, though. You want those lovely branded lines to be as dark as you can get them.
Once the chops have been seared on both sides, put them on a baking sheet and into the oven to finish cooking (the oven can remain on 350 degrees). The pork is finished when the needle on a thermometer floats anywhere between 145 degrees and 155 degrees (over that, it will be too well done). Make sure you stab the thermometer into the meat and not the stuffing!
When the pork is done, let it rest a few minutes to redistribute the juices before serving.
The best presentation for this meal is serving it altogether on a family-style platter, garnishing with the salvaged rosemary sprigs. After all, this isn't a dainty meal; it's made to leave your family/friends/guests sunk back in their chairs, hands on bellies, lips curled into grins that say they haven't been this contented since mama last cooked for them.
-- Chef J. Fortune