The day after David and I got married we spent the day hanging out with our friends and family in Boston’s North End. We had a leisurely lunch, got drinks on the patio, and strolled through the streets of the St. Anthony’s festival. As the hours passed, our group dwindled as people left in groups and pairs to catch their trains, head to the airport, or pack up the car and hit the road. By dinner time, everyone had gone, and David and I found ourselves alone, enjoying married life together in our neighborhood for the first time. We found our way to a cookout hosted by one of the neighborhood restaurants. I’d been invited by one of the owners: an elderly man who drinks his coffee on the sidewalk outside his restaurant in the early hours of the morning, when I’m heading off to work. We’re two of the only people on the streets that early, so we recognize each other, and though we don’t know one another’s name, we say hi and wave. The week before the cookout (and the wedding), he called out to me across the street, mentioned that he was throwing a party, and suggested I stop by.
The street was full of people, and a large grated grill was set up outside. Inside, a small band was set up in the corner, and there were coolers with beer. They grilled the pork chops in rows, slicing the meat into strips when they were just cooked through, and piling them on a large platter. People gathered around the grill with each fresh batch, taking a share, then making their way back to their beers. This was some of the best, juiciest meat I’ve had in ages. It wasn’t overcooked or tough, and it had just a touch of an oily citrus sauce that boosted the flavor just so. We felt lucky to have been invited.
I tried to recreate that juiciness and those flavors with this recipe. I marinated the pork chops in a garlicky olive oil blend to help the pork chops keep stay moist through cooking. At first, I thought it would be a good idea to try to capture the citrus flavor by adding it to the marinade, but when I went to turn the pork chops after about an hour, I found that the acidity from the lemon juice was starting to slowly cook the pork. If you compare the two pictures above, the pork chops on the right are starting to get a dull, pale appearance as the proteins denature, while the chops on the left still look bright and raw (the same happens with heat, though much faster). To fix this problem, I take the lemon juice out of the marinade and add it instead as a final touch to the fully cooked chops.
While the chops cook (indoors, for now), I made a batch of fried rice with vegetables to make a bed upon which to serve the pork. It’s another step in my efforts to get better with some of the flavors of Asian cooking. Here I use a hefty dose of citrus and cilantro with a bit of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and a just a bit of sesame oil. Taken together, the pork and rice combination have an excellent flavor. It’s a new favorite dish.
Marinated Pork Chops with Flavorful Fried Rice
6 pork loin chops (about 1/2 – 3/4 inch thick)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
juice from 1 lemon
For the rice:
5 garlic cloves
2 bell peppers
2/3 pound sugar snap peas
1 cup brown rice, cooked
juice from 1 lime
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1. Marinate the pork chops: Combine the olive oil, garlic, and cilantro in a resealable plastic bag or shallow dish. Add the pork chops and coat thoroughly. Refrigerate the marinating chops for 2 hours, flipping the chops over halfway through.
2. Wash and prepare the vegetables: Finely slice the scallions (using the white parts and a good portion of the green stems) and chop the garlic; set these two ingredients aside separately. Cut the peppers in half, remove the seeds and stems, and then slice into 3/4-inch pieces. Cut the sugar snap peas into halves or thirds.
3. Heat a grill pan over medium heat and lightly coat with peanut oil. Cook the pork chop, flipping once, until it reaches 145 degrees (test the internal temperature with a meat thermometer — check earlier than you think you’d need to, because pork is easy to over cook). Remove from heat, add the lemon juice, and cover loosely with tinfoil.
4. At the same time, heat a skillet over medium heat and add about 1 tablespoon of peanut oil. When the pan and oil are very hot, add the rice, stirring briskly so it doesn’t stick and gets coated evenly with oil. After 1-2 minutes, add the garlic and scallions, cooking another 2 minutes. Add the red peppers, cooking 3 more minutes. Finally, add the sugar snap peas and cook for 5 minutes. Add the cilantro, lime juice, vinegar, and sesame at the end, stirring to mix evenly. Serve the pork chops over a bed of the rice/vegetable mixture.