Liza de Guia documents local artisanal food producers on her website Food. Curated. Her latest story is about an artisanal slaughterhouse in Upstate New York. It’s a very thoughtful piece, and I think incredibly well done. I’m not going to lie — it’s not easy to watch, but that makes it all the more important to do so.
I’ve decided to take my posts in a
new direction. I’m focusing on comfort foods from around the globe.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, comfort food is “food prepared in a traditional style having a usually nostalgic or sentimental appeal.” I like this definition a lot. Not everybody craves Mac & Cheese when they need to be comforted. Some people crave calf liver with sautéed onions and mashed potatoes (that’s what you get when you’re raised in an Eastern European household). My personal comfort foods change with my moods and the seasons. Yes, sometimes it’s liver and mashed potatoes, but other times a Macrobiotic platter of brown rice, steamed vegetables and sea vegetables really hit home for me. Granted, I did not grow up eating brown rice and steamed veggies, but there is kind of a sentimental, old-school health nut, my-body-is-a-temple vibe to that kind of meal.
I’m going to be asking around a lot about people’s favorite comfort foods. Hopefully, I’ll be able to pull a variety of people into my kitchen to teach me how to prepare their favorite childhood meals. And, of course, this is a great opportunity for me to delve into my cookbooks — Madhur Jaffrey, Ramin Ganeshram, Mai Pham, I’m looking at you!
I began the comfort food kick Thursday evening when cooking some meals for the upcoming week. I did make the sautéed liver with caramelized onions, yes. But, I also made pork chops. I procured a pair of Aberdeen Hill Farms pork chops at the Park Slope Food Co-op. These chops are quite good — tender, juicy (as long as you don’t overcook them) and flavorful. The whole process is pretty quick, and . . . a bit messy!
Some people like to marinate their chops in milk to tenderize them. These chops are thin (only about a half-inch) and quite tender on their own, so I decided bypass that step.
First, you set up your work station. Line up three shallow bowls (pie plates work really well for this) consisting, respectively, of unbleached all-purpose flour, 1 beaten egg, and bread crumbs (you can jazz this up by using panko breadcrumbs)
Generously season each pork chop on both sides with salt and pepper.
Place a 10- or 12-inch frying pan with steep sides (I prefer a cast-iron skillet) over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add about 1/4 cup of cooking oil to the pan (I used organic sunflower seed oil, but you can use peanut oil, lard, canola oil, or any oil you have that’s suitable for frying).
While the pan is heating up dip your first pork chop in the flour. Be sure to coat all surfaces, then shake off excess flour by gently tossing the chop from hand to hand. You want a very thin layer of flour to adhere to the meat. Next, dip chop in the beaten egg. Again, be sure to coat all surfaces. Finally, press the pork chop into the breadcrumbs on all sides. Place the chop in the hot oil, and repeat with the second pork chop.
Since these pork chops were pretty thin, I fried them until they were golden brown on each side. I don’t mind a little pink inside my chop, but the FDA frowns upon this practice — they say your meat should be cooked all the way through. If you find that your breading is burning before you’ve reached desired doneness in your meat, you can finish off the meat in a 350ºF oven.
The process is pretty simple, and you end up with delightfully crispy pork chops that make for awesome leftovers, too!
Variations: You can use the same exact method with chicken and veal — in which case, all of the above are known as Wiener Schnitzel or, south of the Alps, Cotoletta Milanese. If you do this with a steak, I believe it’s referred to as chicken-fried steak. I’m guessing you can even try this with a veggie burger if you must 🙂
Full Disclosure: I don’t have a TV at the moment, so I don’t have access to Oprah’s show right now.
I heard about Oprah’s vegan challenge through the grapevine (you know, Twitter). I was immediately skeptical. The last time I saw Michael Pollan on Oprah, his segment was followed by a vegan segment with Alicia Silverstone. Pollan, in case you don’t know, is an advocate of unprocessed, whole-foods, mostly plant-based eating. Ms. Silverstone’s segment was about how and why she became a vegan. The cameras followed her through a shopping trip at Whole Foods Market, and I distinctly remember a number of processed, soy-based meat alternatives going into her shopping cart. And this was after Ms. Silverstone herself spoke of the importance of eating whole foods.
One of my Twitter-folk shared this blog post by food writer Dawn Viola of Wicked Good Dinners: Oprah’s Vegan Challenge, Not a Vegetable in Site. Turns out I was right to be skeptical: “…Kathy had filled Jill’s entire shopping cart with processed soy and meat substitutes, cheese substitutes, milk, butter and egg substitutes, without one fruit, vegetable, grain, nut, seed or bean represented in its natural form.”
So this is why I get frustrated with some vegans (I definitely know vegans who lead a mostly whole-food, meat-substitute-free lifestyle). I don’t see how processed meat substitutes made of corn and soy are sustainable — they’re certainly not healthy. In an episode of Krista Tippet on Being, Dan Barber talks about New York State’s ecology:
“My ecological conditions are dictating that we eat a lot of meat because we’re grassland. What we grow best… is an amazing diversity of healthful grass for animals. …For me to be a vegetarian, and be a strict advocate of it wouldn’t be listening to the ecology of it that the land is telling us it wants to grow.”
I simply don’t buy the argument that eating vegan in New York State is the healthful, sustainable choice. Now, if you live in southern California, where the growing season lasts 13 months out of the year (which is weird, I know, since there are only 12 months in the calendar year), going vegan makes a whole lot more sense. Eating a lot of beef and dairy makes very little sense out there since the land is not naturally grassland. There’s a lot of desert, and sustaining livestock involves irrigation and all sorts of finagling with the natural terrain. Dan Barber continues:
“If you want to be in New England, and you want to improve the ecological conditions of where you are, you’re eating meat. There’s no question about it. There is no healthy ecological system that I’ve ever seen that doesn’t include animals. It just doesn’t. Because the manure from the animals is a free ecological resource that amends the soil that gives you better tasting and healthful vegetables. That’s been around since the beginning of time.”
In a future post, I’ll discuss the health benefits of eating grass-fed meat and dairy. Also, the differences in the fat/nutrient profiles of grass-fed versus grain-fed meat.