Thursday, July 24, 2014

Grilled Pork Chops with Cherry-Vodka Gastrique

The cherry pitter tops any list of kitchen tools taking up valuable space in your kitchen; it gathers dust in the pantry for about 10 months out of the year but sees extensive use in July and August when grocery stores are nearly begging you to buy your share of the annual cherry harvest. To pair with cherries, we considered duck breast but ultimately opted for thick-cut, bone-in pork chops because we enjoy the sight of caveman meat on top of a fine French sauce. A fragrant spice rub takes grilled meat over the top, especially if it has a bit of heat. We've included instructions for the rub we used, but feel free to use whatever old standby you break out every summer.

The sauce is a variation of a gastrique, essentially a sweet-and-sour reduction. It's not only a great use of the cherry pitter (don't sweat it if you don't have one, there are plenty of alternative methods for getting the pits out); it's also easy to cook and quick enough to make while the pork chops rest. Plus, it's a great way to make the proprietor of your local liquor store raise an eyebrow when you select cheapest, smallest bottle of vodka... for uhh, cooking. 

Grilled Pork Chops with Cherry-Vodka Gastrique

Cooking Time

1 hour (30 minutes active)


2 people looking for some way to use the 5 lbs. of cherries they just impulse-bought

Chef's knife
Cutting board
Grill brush
Wooden spoon
Small skillet for toasting spices (optional)
Large, heavy-bottomed skillet for making sauce
Paper towels
Cherry pitter (optional)
Spice grinder or mortar and pestle (optional)

2 thick bone-in, center-cut pork chops
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon cumin seed
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoons Turbinado sugar
~1 tablespoon oil to grease grill grates

1/4 large red onion or 1/2 medium red onion, very finely diced
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 lb. cherries, pitted and halved
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup vodka
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 small handful tarragon, picked from stems and very thinly sliced

1. Rub pork chops all over with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar. Score the rind of fat with a sharp knife at 1/2" intervals. Refrigerate and allow to cure uncovered for at least 30 minutes, or up to 3 hours.

2. Meanwhile, heat half of a grill to high heat. (If using charcoal, burn half a chimney of coals until covered in white ash and arrange on one side of the grill. If using gas, turn all burners to high to heat the grates, and then turn off half of the burners so all the heat is coming from one side.)

3. To make the spice rub, toast peppercorns, fennel seed, cumin seed, and dried thyme in small skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Coarsely grind and mix with garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne, and Turbinado sugar. (Note: we like to toast and grind our spices, but the recipe will work with pre-ground spices too.)

4. Pat pork chops dry with paper towels. Coat all over with spice rub.

5. Prepare grill by scrubbing grates with a grill brush and greasing with an oiled paper towel held in a pair of tongs.

6. Sear pork chops on hot side of grill, flipping every 30 seconds, until a deep, lightly charred crust has formed, about 4 minutes. Stand pork chops on their sides and sear rinds until fat has rendered and crisped, about 1 minute (you may need to move the chops around every few seconds to avoid flareups).

7. Transfer pork chops to cold side of grill, with bones facing hot side. Cover grill and cook until medium (the chops will feel firm but somewhat pliable to the touch, and will register an internal temperature of ~135 degrees), 7-10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cover with aluminum foil. Scrub grill grates with grill brush before coming back inside.

8. While the pork rests, make the sauce. Sauté onion in butter in large skillet with 1/4 teaspoon salt over medium-high heat until soft and translucent, about 1 minute. Add cherries, water, vodka, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and raise heat to high. Cook at a lively simmer until cherries have begun to soften and give off their liquid and alcohol has cooked off, about 3 minutes (you can flambé the vodka with a match or lighter if you're feeling frisky). Add vinegar, honey, and any juices that have accumulated under the resting pork chops. Simmer until liquid has reduced to a light syrup, about 3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Remove from heat and stir in tarragon.

9. Plate pork chops with generous scoops of sauce. Garnish with a little tarragon. Serve with grilled vegetables. Stare at plate before eating because that is some damn fine food you've just made.

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