The Giving Pig + Pork Chops with Fennel, Sage & Garlic Recipe
Is there anything so generous, so giving, as a pig? I grew up hearing such aphorisms as “you can eat everything on a pig except its squeal!” In my adult years studying ancient history and Latin, I came to learn that the practical-minded Romans venerated the animal for its amazing ability to turn so many kitchen scraps into tasty meat and sweet fat. I too venerate the pig and not just because we live in an enlightened time of nose-to-tail gastronomy. They are among the tastiest of animals—this is the creature that brought us bacon, after all! A noble animal, indeed.
Putting aside, however, the dry and rather feeble-tasting “other white meat” that was bred for our modern fat-phobic society, the pig I want on my plate is one that’s lived a life of true pig-ness—one whose ancestry hasn’t been messed around, who’s rooted around in the undergrowth, rolled in mud, chased a few females…you know, a pig with a past. This is one worth eating nose-to-tail and will reward the eater with a dark, moist, and succulent savoriness. If we are what we eat, we should eat nobly!
If you are lucky enough to get your hands on such a near-mythical beast, cook him with reverence or irreverence, but please do not overcook the tender bits! Some parts of the pig do indeed need long, slow cooking, but the tender parts are truly at their best when cooked to medium. The trichinosis that the government long ago taught us to fear is eradicated completely at 137°, which leaves the meat still quite pink and juicy. The government neglected to inform us of this, however, preferring to trust in our innate untrustworthiness to feed ourselves correctly, and instead told us to nuke our pork into dry, tasteless oblivion. I take my pork to 140° to 145°—still juicy and very slightly pink, and I urge you to do the same. It will be a revelation.
What might also be a revelation is how quickly a couple of pork chops can be whipped up for dinner. I like to make these fennel- and garlic-crusted chops when time and/or energy are ebbing but the tide of hunger is strong. Once the aromatics are chopped, dinner can be on the table in a mere 20 minutes or so, giving us more of our evening back…another gift of the generous pig.
Pork Chops with Fennel, Sage & Garlic
Most recipes have you put garlic and herbs on the meat prior to pan-frying, but it’s very difficult to keep these from burning while at the same time getting a good sear. I solve this problem by putting the flavored butter on the pork once it’s been seared—voila! I served these with simple roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, but a side dish of fennel bulbs would be very good and quite appropriate, as well.
2 bone-in pork chops, 1 to 1 1/4 inches thick
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed or ground
3 cloves of garlic, grated or pressed
1 1/2 Tbs. finely minced sage
2 Tbs. butter, melted
1 T. oil or other fat (lard or bacon fat would be good)
Salt and pepper the chops, and set aside for 30 minutes if you have the time. Preheat oven to 300°. Mix fennel, garlic and sage with melted butter to make paste, and set aside.
Heat the oil on medium-high heat in an oven-safe skillet large enough to hold both chops. When hot, add the chops and sear without moving 3 to 3 1/2 minutes, till browned and crusty. Flip, and immediately spread one-half of the butter paste on the seared side. Let the second side sear about 2 minutes. Turn off the burner, flip the chops, and spread with the remaining butter paste.
Slide the skillet into the oven, and roast for 8 to 10 minutes, till 145°, or medium. Allow to rest 5 minutes, covered loosely with foil.