On cold winter weekends I occasionally marinate myself in tequila (you would too if the sun only made a cursory 3 hour appearance each day), but during the week I soberly teach English at the local state University. As adjunct faculty I come into contact with a new round of MFA grad students every year. They usually stick around for 3-5 years, during which time I usually become very close to a handful of them. Then, when they have finished their degrees and realized that Fairbanks is a Coldhearted Bitch, they abandon me in my Palace of Ice, and I miss them terribly forever after.
The most recent spate of amigos were quite fond of a domino game called “Mexican Train.” I love this game because it’s challenging enough that I don’t get bored, yet it’s simple enough that, after one too many margaritas, I can still play. Well… to a point. Those nights were good nights and the company was even better. Last week I got the following email from one of those friends:
Don’t you wish we were playing mexican train this weekend? Maybe with some wine (like five bottles)? I was just thinking about you yesterday because I was remembering that really good marinated pork you made one of those nights. Do you remember that stuff? I think it was Spanish style. If you do remember it, and you get the notion, you should send me the recipe, even if it was kind of makeshift. That stuff was GOOD!
The pork she’s referring to was a complete accident. Another foodfreak galpal of mine and I were preparing for Mexican Train Night, and I had fried up a couple of pork chops just to get them cooked and eaten before they turned on me. I had the heat up way too high at first and then lowered it too much (I was trying to prepare 4 or 5 other dishes at the same time…what can I say?) so I was left with 4 overdone pork chops lying in a pan full of the juices they’d released because I cooked them wrong. But all that juice looked delightful, and so I decided to wing it and go with an appetizer. The result was a marinated pork that has now become lore within my small social circle. Of course the ribeyes that I once oversalted and destroyed are also lore, but of a different kind. I responded to her email as best I could. Here is the recipe based on what I can recall from that margarita soaked night:
Mexican Train Marinated Pork
- 3-4 boneless porkchops
- 1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 large shallot bulbs
- 1 handful of fresh cilantro leaves
- 1/4 cup of Modena balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp white pepper
- salt to taste
1. Pan fry some room temperature boneless pork chops. Get a pan really hot with the olive oil in it (about 1/4 – 1/2 a cup of olive oil. 1/4 should do for about 3 pork chops) but not so hot that it’s smoking.
2. Throw the pork in the hot oil and put a lid on them. Pork releases all its juice if you cook it on a high heat and let it remain high (in other words, slow-fry them if you want them to stay juicy) but for this dish you want them to release all their tasty porky juices.
3. FINELY slice about two or three big bulbs of shallots. Like paper thin.
4. Take a handful (1/2 cup or so?) of cilantro leaves and tear the whole leaves off the stems. Chop one half of that and leave the other half whole.
5. Once the chops are *done, remove them from the heat.
*How to tell if a porkchop is done: Make a slightly relaxed fist and touch the meaty part of your hand between the thumb and first finger. Make a tight fist and touch that part of your hand…that’s overdone. Totally relax your fist and you have trichomoniasis. Basically, you want the pork to be ever so slightly pink. Not raw pink, but like the faintly pink cheeks of a little cherub in an obnoxious baroque painting.
6. Once the heat is off, pour the juice and oil into a bowl. Then let the chops rest for about 15 minutes or so. Until everything has returned to room temp or slightly warmer. If you didn’t get much juice out of them, add 1/4 cup or so of chicken broth (if you use bullion don’t make the broth very strong).
7. Add the shallots and cilantro to the juice. Then add about 1/4 cup or so of MODENA balsamic vinegar. The kind that’s really dark and syrupy. Then add about 1 tablespoon of white ground pepper (black won’t taste even remotely the same).
8. Finally, slice the pork chops very very thin and add them to the liquid. Let them soak for at least 10 minutes and then I think you can call it good.
I’ve made this pork a few times since then, and I think the recipe is pretty consistent. Most folks scoop out a few dripping pieces and eat it atop sliced french bread.
These days I put on Mariachi music and imagine myself in a sunny, dirty town some place far away from here while I cook it. And, of course, there is always a raucous group of domino playing friends with me.