It was one of those divine cooking evenings.
I didn't have a plan for dinner, but I did miraculously have a number of ingredients on hand that work really well together: pork chops, sweet potatoes, apple cider leftover from a Thanksgiving gathering, lots of fresh herbs also from the holiday — and a bag of fresh pearl onions I had intended to work into stuffing but instead completely forgot about.
I've cooked with pearl onions only a couple times before, usually buying them frozen and throwing them into a casserole without thinking about it. So when I saw a small bag of them, skin on and everything, at Publix recently next to the shallots and garlic, I grabbed them.
That's where I started with this meal, which transformed into a favorite recent home-cooked dinner for me and my husband.
I started by peeling the onions, which was not very fun, small and slippery as they are. If you don't want to go the pearl onion route, a regular large white onion will work just fine. Either way, they go into a nice warm bath of apple cider and some herbs, where they soften up nicely and help turn the cider into a thin sauce that comes in handy later.
When I made the meal this time, I chopped up some fresh apple at the very end and served it alongside the dish raw. I like to eat fruit with just about any meal if I can help it, and I thought the apple would lend a nice crunch. It did, but my husband suggested that next time I add the apples to the cider-onion concoction, and he is probably right. So in the recipe below, we're adding fresh apples to that sauce.
What really makes this dish is that cider sauce, plus a pan sauce you make at the very end. By the time you're ready to eat, your plate is pooling with little rivers of complementary flavor.
If there is one thing I've learned from mail-order recipe kits like Blue Apron, it's that you must always make a pan sauce after cooking meat in a skillet. So after you cook your pork chops, add a bit of butter, some liquid, plenty of salt, and scrape the skillet to get all the leftover bits incorporated. Let it thicken up into a sauce, and drizzle that all over your chops. (This works best if you're using a cast-iron or stainless steel skillet, not nonstick.)
Sweet potatoes round things out, as does a bed of fresh arugula, which I worried might be a little weird as I was doing it but ended up tying everything together.
This is a nice, wholesome, dare-I-say-healthy dinner for December, when things are otherwise frazzled but you don't just want to keep eating macaroni and cheese until Christmas.
A kitchen miracle for this most wonderful time of the year.
Pork With Potatoes and Pearl Onions
1 large sweet potato, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cup peeled pearl onions, or 1 small white onion cut into chunks
2 cups apple cider (or broth of your choice)
1 sprig fresh rosemary
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 apple, diced
2 thick-cut boneless pork chops
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup water
2 cups arugula
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with olive oil, then add sweet potatoes. Season with salt and pepper, and toss. Bake sweet potatoes until tender, about 20 minutes. Stir once or twice during cooking to make sure they don't burn on one side.
Add a splash of olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high until hot. Add onions and cook until slightly browned, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then pour apple cider into the skillet. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil, then let cook for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, add rosemary and thyme, and let simmer for 10 minutes until liquid has reduced a bit and onions are soft. Add apple, stir for about 30 seconds, then cover, turn heat to low and let sit on burner while you prepare the rest of the meal.
Set a smaller skillet over medium-high heat and add another splash of olive oil. Pat pork chops dry and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Add chops to hot skillet, and cook on each side for 5 minutes. Check temperature for doneness; I cook mine to about 155 degrees. Remove from heat when done and place on a plate to rest.
Return skillet used to cook pork to heat and add butter and water. Season with more salt and pepper, and bring to a low boil. Add a splash of the reserved cider-onion mixture. Cook, scraping up all the bits on the bottom of the pan, for about 5 minutes, until the mixture becomes a thin sauce.
Divide arugula evenly between two plates, then layer over that the sweet potatoes and pork chops. Top with pearl onions and apples, then spoon pan sauce over top of everything. Serve with any reserved onion-apple cider liquid on the side.
Source: Michelle Stark, Tampa Bay Times