Feast of the Southern Wild (Grilled Pork Chops with Apricot-Dijon Relish)

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Carinn and I met working in the deli of the West Seattle PCC (that’s the Puget Consumers Cooperative for all you foreigners). We actually started on the same day, as the only two ‘West Side’ employees at orientation. PCC is definitely a bit on the “crunchy” side (ok, maybe more than a bit), and the person hosting the orientation gave a rather in-depth lecture on NOT wearing any scented products so as to avoid offending customers. I have one of those brains that shoots first and asks questions later but not in the badass, John Wayne sort of way. I blurted out, “Do I smell? Can you smell me?” I was really referring to the strength of my deodorant, but it didn’t exactly come out gracefully. The fact that Carinn would even speak to me, let alone invite me into her home after that spectacle is a testament to her kindness. Anyhow, on to the food.

We both learned the fundamentals of cooking while working at PCC. I’d had highfalutin jobs working in fine-dining restaurants in downtown Seattle, but they were front-of-house and all I really learned were a few bad habits and a taste for food I couldn’t afford. Likewise, Carinn had been a home cook for years, but didn’t experiment much beyond recipes. Neither of us had been through the culinary boot camp of working in a commercial kitchen; there was a lot to learn. Nothing will make you comfortable with a knife like carving up 30 lbs. of Butternut Squash or dicing 20 lbs of yellow onions. And if cooking meat to the proper temperature has alluded you, just buy 40 lbs. of chicken breasts and grill them all at the same time. You’ll get comfortable fast.

Many of our favorite recipes are based on PCC-variations, so we decided to tip our hats to two of our favorites for this meal. Specifically, the Mashed Yams and Goat Cheese are super simple with only four main ingredients. We also make a variation of PCC’s Spicy Gingered Collard Greens, substituting a jalepeño for Anaheim Chiles if we can’t find them. In the variation pictured above we used a Cherry Bomb Pepper and a Jalapeño.

We happened to get our hands on a couple of monster chops from the Swinery for this version, but tenderloin would be delicious as well. Here’s a simple marinade:

For 2-4 chops:
1/2 cup of white wine
1/2 cup of stone ground dijon mustard
1 teaspoon of honey (skip it if the wine is sweet)

salt and pepper

Marinate the pork for a minimum of an hour, longer is better. I like to grill things whenever possible, but a trusty broiler would do the trick as well. For the love of god don’t overcook your chops. Tenderloin is more forgiving of abuse, but pork chops go from objects worthy of worship to jawzercisers within about 15º (145º should do the trick). My feeling is that you can always put something back on heat if it’s not quite done yet, but once a pickle’s been pickled, there’s no going back to a cucumber. Letting your chops rest for 2-5 minutes without cutting into them will help to even out the cooking. If they’re a little over, they won’t drain all their juices as soon as you cut into them, and if they’re a little under, they’ll carry over a bit.

Now, on to the secret sauce. Good pork is sweet. Complementing it with the sweetness of apple, fig, pear, or in this case, apricot, always works.

1 tbl olive oil
1/2 yellow onion cut into half moons
2 cloves of garlic, smashed and very roughly chopped
1/4 cup apricots, thickly sliced
1 tbl stone ground dijon
1 tbl butter
2 tsp flour
1/4 cup white wine (this can be replaced with apple cider)
1 cup chicken stock or water

Salt and Pepper

Carmelize the onions until they’re consistently translucent and mostly golden brown (add a tablespoon of water to the pan periodically if the onions look like they’re drying out). Add the garlic and stir until evenly browned, making sure to prevent any of the garlic from burning to the bottom of the pan (turn down the heat if it’s sticking).

Add the mustard and apricots and move the mixture to one side of the pan, or remove it altogether. Add the butter and flour and incorporate until the two combine into a smooth paste. Your pan should be hot enough for the mixture to bubble heartily. Stir constantly and pay attention. Once the flour and butter begin to turn golden, give your pan a sniff. Your mixture should smell nutty and like the beginnings of brown butter. Congratulations – you just made a primo roux!

Add the wine and stir until it incorporates with your roux. Cook off the wine for a few seconds – a quarter cup should go pretty quick. Don’t let too much evaporate or your gravy will end up lumpy. Add the chicken stock and stir until the roux blooms and the sauce thickens. If it seems too thick, add a little liquid. Add back your mixture, and if the sauce seems thin let it simmer for a while until it thickens up. Augment with Salt and Pepper to taste.

Build your plate with the yams and collards on the bottom, stack your pork on top, and top it off with a healthy pile of dijon-apricot relish.

Enjoy!
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