Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lemongrass Pork Chops from The Ancestral Table

While looking through Russ Crandall's The Ancestral Table, his Lemongrass Pork Chops stood out to me.  He talks about lemongrass pork chops being one of the identifiable Vietnamese dishes, but I'd never had them before.  I had some close friends growing up that were Vietnamese and I had many a traditional Vietnamese meal with them and never had a pork chop with them, so I was curious.  He has a version of this recipe at The Domestic Man, but it is quite a bit different from the recipe in the cookbook that I will be reviewing.   I gathered my ingredients, and got to work.  

The pork chops need to be marinated "overnight," so I started this recipe in the morning, so I could cook them when I returned from work in the evening.   I decided to use my mini-chopper to blend the marinade ingredients together.  

First up, was the recipe's namesake, the lemongrass.  The recipe calls for only the white parts.  

The marinade also calls for "1 shallot."  Oh goodness, the shallot question bares it's ugly head again.   I emailed Russ in advance of making the recipe to find out how he defines "1 shallot."  He kindly replied that to him, "1 shallot" is "just one shallot bulb, and if size isn't specified it should be medium size, about 2" long."  I decided to quarter the shallot before adding it to my mini-chopper to help everything blend more quickly.  

After that, you basically measure and dump the rest of the ingredients into the blending machine of your choice and blitz it until the marinate is a paste.  

I wasn't sure how smooth the paste should be.  I added about a tablespoon of water to see if it would get smoother than what is pictured, but it seemed to want to stay at that level of chunkiness, so I declared it done.  

The next step required me to use a new kitchen gadget!  Yay!  Well, I chose to use this recipe as an excuse to get a new gadget.  Russ asks you to tenderize the pork chops with a fork or a blade tenderizer.  I found this one at Walmart (there is no kitchen snobbery here), of all places, but here is a similar one online.  

This tool is pretty darn cool.  Can you see the little holes?  I tenderized all four pork chops on both sides.  When I decided upon this recipe, I really wanted to grill them.  Russ recommends a  thin cut pork chop for grilling.  When I went to the store (or 3), I couldn't find any thin.  One of the stores I went to has a butcher that will typically cut things up as you like it but the guy that was there the day I went was not helpful, at all.  These were about 1/2 thick.    

I put the chops into a resealable plastic bag and poured in the marinade.  I worked the marinade around all of the chops.  As these chops were bone in, I was worried that I may have punctured the bag while working the marinade around them, so I put them in a plastic grocery bag before putting them on my meat tray in my refrigerator.  Better safe than having an unplanned refrigerator cleaning session.  

Here is what the chops looked like after they had marinated for about 10 hours.  I decided to have a little fun and grill two of the chops and bake 2 of the chops.  Yeah, these were a little thicker than what Russ recommended for grilling, but I figured it would likely work out.  I didn't get any grill pictures as it was dark already.  Sorry.  I gathered all of the stopwatches/timers I had so I could pull this dual cooking method off.  

Since I do have pictures of the baked chops, I'll start with that method first.  I noticed when I removed the chops and was getting ready to pan sear them that they had rolled up.  I've seen this before but hadn't really investigated it.  Apparently, cutting the fat strategically will resolve this issue.  Next time.

I turned the oven on to pre-heat to 450 degrees while I pan seared the chops on each side.  Russ uses coconut oil.  I'm avoiding coconut oil right now, so I used Fatworks leaf lard.  

Once seared, I placed them on a baking sheet that I decided to line with foil for easier clean up.  As I was only baking two of these, I could have likely just used my sauté pan as it is heat safe up to 500 degrees.  Next time.  

Here is the finished baked chop.  I served it with some cauliflower rice.  

For the grilled chops, I let the grill heat for 10 minutes until it was super hot.  I then grilled them for 3 minutes on the first side and then 4 minutes on the second.  By the way, I checked the temperature of both the baked and grilled chop and both far exceeded Russ's recommended cooked temperature.  Here is the finished grilled chop.  

The grilled just didn't look as pretty to me, so lets look at another shot of the baked.  

Accessibility & Cost of Ingredients: I bought most of the ingredients for this recipe at my local Asian grocery.  I've found that lemongrass in particular is much cheaper and fresher there than my "big box" grocery store or Whole Foods.   If you need fish sauce, I like Red Boat brand. My local Asian grocery actually carries it now, so you may want to check your local store before ordering online.  

Preparation & Cooking Time:  It took me just over 16 minutes to prepare the marinade and get the pork into the refrigerator to marinate for the day.  For the baked pork chops, it took me a total of 23 minutes to cook them.  For the grilled pork chops, it took me 21 minutes total to cook them.  

Clean Up:  Everything I used for the pre-marinade prep went into the dishwasher.  When I cooked the chops, the foil did a good job of keeping the sheet pan clean (but I put it in the dishwasher anyway) and I hand washed my sauté pan.  

The Paleo Review:  Thumbs Up!  As much as I like the ease of the grill, I must say that the baked chops had the clear flavor edge.  More of the lemongrass and umami flavor came through with the baked chops. The baked chops were tender and juicy.  They were even more flavorful the next day when I reheated them for lunch.  Yum. 

The grilled chops were also tender and juicy, but fresh off the grill, I really didn't taste much of the marinade flavors.  They were more flavorful when reheated over a few days.  I'll try the grilled again when I find thinner chops as recommended to see if they turn out better, but for now, I'll bake these in the future.  

Since most of the prep is done in the morning, with a little planning these could be a good weeknight dinner.   

Does anyone have any recipe requests from the book?  I'm planning on cooking 2 more recipes before dong a book review post.  I have several pages flagged but would love some input.