If you were to ask what my favourite meat is, I would say fish. To me, this is a no-brainer. Some part of my chromosome clearly has a strong gene handed down from my seafaring Goan ancestors. This gene appears to control my olfactory glands. Unlike most of my friends, I love the smell of fish—dried, fresh, frying (rotting is another matter, but then I’m not a rat).
Piggy chops: 1. Roasting spices for the walnut-balsamic sauce; 2. pounding the roasted spices; 3. marinating the chops in rum and roasted spices; 4. adding garlic to the marinade; 5. the grilled chops; 6. the sauce, topped with basil leaves and pine nuts. Photographs by Samar Halarnkar
What’s after fish? Pork. I just love it. Many years ago, it delighted me to watch those ads on American television—issued by the Pork Producers Association or some such—proclaiming pork to be the “other white meat”. Over the years, I reluctantly realized this was entirely misleading. Pork can clog your arteries as quickly, if not quicker, than lamb, goat or beef. And don’t forget all that yummy fat, without which pork isn’t really pork.
Pork was always a part of our kitchen. I can’t claim this is genetic because Goan Hindus don’t eat pork. But my family does. I suspect this is an adopted gene: a Gowda gene. You see, I was brought up by a family of Gowdas from Karnataka (yes, the same clan as our former snoring prime minister, Deve Gowda); and many Gowdas eat pork. As you travel through their heartland, Mandya, the landscape is dotted by little piggeries, identified by their gaily painted signboards of grinning pigs.
Whatever, the Halarnkar family finds it hard to do without pork: breakfast sausages, pork curry (especially the Coorgi pandhi curry), pork masala, Goan sausages (those spicy, vinegary delights), salami, ham, and my mother’s pork pickle. And over the last year—thanks to a very kind colleague—I am discovering the wide-ranging delights of Naga pork, made with yam leaves or with the gut-wrenching bhoot jolokia chilli.
Since I am in this piggy frame of mind, I thought it appropriate to share with you, dear reader, my latest version of an old favourite: the pork chop. The key to buying a good pork chop is…er, I don’t know, really. It’s funny, but the pork chops I’ve made over the last decade have been bought by my wife, a confirmed vegetarian.
I believe the secrets to a good pork chop are fresh spices, some alcohol and simple accompaniments. I pan-fried the chops— grilled really, since there was no added oil, just the released fat—whipped up a little sauce and had it with brown rice, a Sindhi sai bhaji, a rocket salad and red wine. Not a crumb was left, not even the fatty rind, the most delicious bit of the chops. I got up the next morning for a 10km walk (okay, I managed just half of that), but there’s always a price to pay, isn’t there?
Old Monk Pork Chops
For the chops
2 large black cardamoms (badi elaichi)
7-8 cloves (laung)
1 star anise
A few strands of mace (javitri)
3 pork chops (750g total)
7-9 big garlic pods, pounded
½ cup Old Monk rum
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Roast the first four spices together until they release an aroma. Pound them into a coarse powder using a mortar pestle (or use a dry grinder). Add the spices, some salt, rum, garlic and oil to the pork chops, rub in everything and let it marinate for 6 hours.
For the walnut-balsamic sauce
2 dried red chillies
½ tsp sesame seeds
2 garlic pods.
1 big tomato, microwaved for 2 minutes
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 sprig shredded basil leaves
1 tsp pine nuts (chilgoza)
2 tsp olive oil
On a tawa, roast the first four ingredients. When fragrances are released, set aside.
In a food processor, blend the spices and the tomato. Drizzle balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Remove into a bowl, top off with shredded basil leaves and pine nuts.
Grill the pork chops, either on a stove top, as I did (drizzling in a bit of the wine that I was drinking as the chops sizzled), or in an oven. Serve the sauce as an accompaniment or pour a small amount on the chops.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes a blog, Our Daily Bread, at Htblogs.com. He is the managing editor of the Hindustan Times.
Write to Samar at firstname.lastname@example.org