Pork Chops Marsala

Although pork is the most widely eaten meat in the world, many people do not know how that happened. Archeologists have proved that pigs were first domesticated nearly simultaneously about 10,000 years ago in eastern Turkey and 4,000 miles away in central China. More recently, genetic research has revealed how various breeds of hogs developed and the complex relationship between domestic pigs and wild boars.

Historians have documented that pigs were first brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus on his voyage to Cuba in 1493. Queen Isabella of Spain suggested that he take a few pigs along in case his crew needed emergency food on the voyage. If they had any left after the trip, they could leave them on the island where, as pigs do, they could multiply to supply meat for later visitors.

Pigs are prolific. When Hernando DeSoto landed at Tampa Bay, Florida, in 1539, he offloaded a herd of thirteen pigs. By the time of his death along the Mississippi River three years later, that original herd had increased to seven hundred porkers, despite the fact that Spanish explorers often enjoyed roast pork after a good day’s travel searching for gold.

Roast pork is one of my favorite dishes. I like my mother’s version of Pork Pot Roast on cold winter evenings, and my Boneless Pork Roast with its crispy crust and aromatic perfume that might well have been inspired by an essay I first read in Charles Lamb’s Essays of EliaDissertation on Roast Pig open when I was ten or eleven years old. “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig” is now nearly two hundred years old, but it still tickles my fancy. In it, he explains how roast pig was invented long ago in China.

As the story goes, Ho-ti the swineherd left his son Bo-bo to take care of their hovel. Bo-bo started a fire which not only burned down the house but also burned a litter of young pigs to death. Bo-bo accidentally discovered how wonderful they tasted and persuaded his father to taste a piece of roast pig. Ho-ti then swears his son to silence and begins helping him burn down the house for a meal of roast pig whenever their sow farrowed another litter.

The neighbors began to suspect something and turned the father and son in to the authorities. Complications ensue, but the story ends happily, except, of course, for the pigs. You really should read the essay. My copy of Essays of Elia was published in 1886, but you can find “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig” on line, and it is very much worth the quarter hour it takes to read it. It might inspire you to try another great recipe like Pork Chops Marsala.

INGREDIENTS:

8 oz. mushrooms
3 T chopped onion
1 T minced garlic
4 T all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. rosemary
1/8 tsp. paprika
Dash of cayenne
2 T olive oil
2 T butter
4 medium pork chops (5 – 6 ounces each)
1 cup water
1 tsp. instant chicken bouillon
1/4 cup Dry Marsala
Pasta of your choice

PROCEDURE:

Clean the mushrooms, onion and garlic. Cut the mushrooms into moderately thick slices, Chop the onion into a quarter-inch dice and mince the garlic. Set these vegetables aside in a medium-sized bowl. Start heating the water for the pasta.

Blend the salt, pepper, rosemary, paprika and cayenne into the flour in a pie plate.

Heat the oil and butter in a skillet. Raise the heat under the water. Cook the pasta according to directions on the package.

Flour the pork chops and cook them over moderate heat until they are lightly browned on both sides, about three minutes per side. Remove them from the pan and set them aside. Reserve the leftover flour.

If you do not have four tablespoons of oil in the pan, add equal amounts of oil and butter as needed. Blend the flour left over from breading the chops into the oil. Add the mushrooms, onion and garlic and cook them over moderate heat for about four minutes, stirring often and being careful not to burn the mixture. Return the pork chops to the pan along with a cup of water, the instant bouillon and Marsala.

Simmer for six or seven minutes and serve with the pasta. Stir the sauce and turn the chops two or three times.

NOTES: You can substitute rice for the pasta. Fettuccine is my usual choice of pasta for this dish.

Pork Fried Rice

Rice, vegetables and pork are the three core ingredients of Chinese cooking. As is the case with many food plants, scientists are not sure when and where rice was first cultivated, but they do agree that it happened in southeast Asia between 8,000 and 13,000 years ago. The oldest records are from China and show that rice has been an important food there for thousands of years.

Fried rice also has a long history. Reay Tannahill in Food in History notes that a recipe from Li-Chi, a book of ritual from the Han dynasty (200 B.C. to 220 A.D.), contains eight recipes to be made for senior citizens. One of them is for rice fried with crisp pieces of fat from a wolf’s breast, a dish prepared to honor old people.

Even 2,000 years ago, fat from a wolf’s breast was almost certainly a delicacy reserved for special occasions and personages. Pork, however, was already a common meat in China 4,000 years ago, and Chinese cooks probably have been combining leftover rice with meat and vegetables to make a tasty and economical dish for at least a couple thousand years.

More than fifty years have passed since I first tasted fried rice. My mother made rice pudding and she served us her version of chop suey over rice, but as far as I remember, she never tried to fry leftover rice. Instead, she would add it to soup or heat it with milk and sugar to make a breakfast dish. It was sometime during the winter of 1961/62 at the University of Wisconsin that a girl in one of my classes suggested that we eat Chinese when I asked her out to dinner.

She was from Milwaukee and familiar with the three major advantages of Chinese restaurants for students. The food is tasty, servings are generous and prices are reasonable. Fried rice is one way that Chinese restaurants maintain those advantages today. Rice is inexpensive, especially when it offers a way to use leftover white rice, and a few finely chopped vegetables provide color, flavor and texture.

There are thousands of recipes for fried rice from plain to elaborate. The simplest use only rice, some cooking oil and seasonings. The more elaborate add ingredients ranging from costly, like steak and black truffles, to inexpensive like pork and common vegetables. Having a limited budget, we opt for the inexpensive. Believe me, it still tastes darn good.

INGREDIENTS:

3 T vegetable oil, divided
1 small boneless pork chop, 6 to 8 ounces
Dashes of salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped scallions plus one or two for garnish
1 rib celery
1 medium carrot
1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas
1 large egg
2 cups day-old cooked rice
1 clove garlic or 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. minced fresh ginger or 1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1 T soy sauce

PROCEDURE:

Have all the ingredients ready to combine in a wok or large non-stick skillet before starting. Begin by taking an egg and the rice from the refrigerator and letting them warm a bit.

Cut the pork chop into thin slices about an inch long and set them aside in a small bowl. Clean and chop three or four scallions into a quarter inch dice and put them into a mixing bowl. Clean a rib of celery and the carrot. Chop the celery into half-inch pieces and the carrot into eighth-inch slices or half-round slices and add them to the scallions along with a half cup of fresh or frozen green peas. If you are using fresh ginger and garlic, mince about a half teaspoon of each and set them aside in a small bowl.

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a wok or large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the pork and stir fry it for about three minutes, seasoning it with a little salt and pepper. Add the carrot, peas, celery and scallions and continue cooking until the pork is done, another four or five minutes. Remove the meat and vegetables to a bowl and return the skillet to medium heat.

Heat another tablespoon of oil. Using a wooden spoon or fork, beat the egg until it is lemon colored, then scramble it vigorously in the skillet until it is completely set and in small pieces. Reduce the heat to low and add the rice, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger. Stir gently, fluffing the rice and breaking up any clumps for about a minute. If the rice sticks to the skillet, add a little more oil. Return the meat and vegetables to the skillet and cook until everything is heated through, four to five minutes.

Serve with a green salad for a lunch or light dinner. Pass the soy sauce.

NOTES: You really need day-old or even two-day-old rice to make good fried rice. White or brown rice work work equally well, but you should use long-grain rice. We almost always have leftover rice when we have Pork and Broccoli or Jalapeño Beef Stir Fry, but you can cook some rice a day or two in advance and store it in the refrigerator. Though I cannot speak from experience, I understand that freshly cooked rice makes mushy fried rice.

Be careful not to use too much oil, and never add water. If you want to be fancy, chop a scallion into thin rings and sprinkle a few over each serving as a garnish.