“It’s all about the ingredients.”
It was drilled into us every minute of everyday over twelve weeks at Ballymaloe Cookery School. Kitchen skill and trickery mean nothing if the raw ingredients are of inferior quality. In my mind it’s where Ireland and the UK went wrong when it came to French food. Our restaurateurs assumed that it was all about the chef and constantly cut corners when it came to ingredients. Little did they realise that there are few people more concerned with the quality of their ingredients than the French. Yes, their chefs are exceptional but they also use the best produce. Exceptional produce in the hands of a highly skilled chef ensures a memorable meal.
Thankfully times have changed. People are more concerned than ever about where their ingredients come from and restaurateurs, especially in the cities, are sourcing quality ingredients from local producers. Irish food, in general, is getting better by the year while our produce is in demand all over the world. It’s not too difficult to see why – our beef and dairy cattle are naturally free range and develop flavour and texture that an American feed lot producer could only dream of. Similarly, our lamb is of excellent quality while our climate means we grow some of the best quality vegetables around, we just have to wait a few months longer for them than the hotter countries. Despite all of this, you never hear of countries looking for Irish chicken or pork. Unfortunately these animals are not treated with the same respect and care as beef and lamb and we produce meat that is the same as everywhere else – bland.
The Simple Chop
There are a few producers bucking this trend however and for a simple pork chop, it is well worth searching them out. I had gone off pork chops years ago. I didn’t see any point in eating them – they didn’t taste of anything. That was until I had a free range pork chop. The texture and flavour was mind blowing, how could this be the same animal?! I love them now and cook them regularly. Because of the flavour already present, there is no need to do too much to the chop. I always season generously the night before I’m going to cook them. Many chefs say not to season food in advance but by seasoning 16-24 hours in advance you allow the salt to draw the moisture out, mix with the seasoning and get re-absorbed into the meat. It has the effect of seasoning the meat from the inside, similar to brining. You need to do this at least 16 hours before, otherwise the moisture won’t have time to get re-absorbed and you’ll be left with a dry chop.
Bone on Free Range or Organic Pork Chop
Maldon Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper
1/2 tsp of Fennel Seeds (optional)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The night before you are going to cook the chops, wipe the meat down and season very generously with sea salt and pepper. Put onto a plate and put uncovered into the fridge. Ensure there is no risk of contamination – it is best to put the uncovered meat on the bottom shelf, ensure there is no cooked/ready to eat produce on the same shelf and ensure that nothing will fall onto the chops from above. Leave in the fridge until two hours before cooking.
Two hours before cooking remove the chops from the fridge and leave somewhere safe to come to room temperature. When ready to cook, put a frying pan over a medium heat and add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Allow the pan to heat up. Sprinkle half the fennel seeds over the top of the chops and pat them in with your hand. Place the chops, fennel side down, into the hot pan and allow to cook for 3-4 minutes until well coloured. Sprinkle the top of the chops with the remaining fennel seeds before turning over and allowing them to cook for 3-4 minutes again.
Reduce the heat to low and turn the chops again. Check the centre of the chops with a thermometer or meat probe. If it reads 74 degrees C. remove the chops to a plate to rest. If not, allow to cook over a low heat until the temperature is achieved. Turn the chops every 2-3 minutes to avoid burning. If the chops are very thick, it may be beneficial to put them into a 180 degree oven until cooked through.
Allow the chops to rest for 5-6 minutes before serving.