The winter equinox has passed but winter still clings tight, the dark of night continues to encroach upon us early and the snow swirls into the street and across our faces. The walk home from school the other night took an hour as the children took the time play in the snow, rolling it between their hands and drawing “Danger! Bears!” signs into it with sticks. I stamped my feet to stay warm and occasionally threw lightly packed snowballs at those little marshmallows. Upon arriving home we were rosy-cheeked and in need of some warmth. While the children sipped at the hot cocoa and snuggled in to watch an episode of Curious George I set upon dinner. Thus, pepper chocolate pork chops were born.
I understand chocolate and pork chops may not seem that appealing but they truly were, Mr. and I happily gobbled them up and the children were pleasantly surprised. Also, if you get the chance to tell your children there is chocolate in the main course I can guarantee you they will eat it. The chocolate flavour was extraordinarily subtle because it came in the form of an infused tea I used to deglaze the pan. My mother-in-law gave me a tin of Hot Lips tea from David’s Tea, a funky teashop out of Montreal that quickly spread across the country. This tea is delicately flavoured with red pepper flakes, tiny chocolate chips and black tea. It all mingles to create this beautifully spicy, sweet and heady aroma that is complex without being overwhelming.
The pork chops I used came from my favourite meat farmer at Halifax’s Brewery Market, Maureen at Little Dorset Farm. All of her animals are grown without hormones, additives or in Maureen’s words “anything funky” and it truly shows in the flavour and quality of her meat. I love the thick cut pork chops and I habitually buy two every Saturday morning. Two are perfect for our small family as the kids share one and Mr. and I share the other; it is enough to have just half of one of those pork chops. We try to take care in our meat consumption and this is definitely one way to do it. By cutting the chop in half I focused on the mesclun salad to help fill me up which means more vegetables and a lighter feeling when I stepped away from the table to go read with Miss N.
The Pork Chops
One large purple onion, roughly diced
2 medium-sized apples – roughly diced - I used organic mason apples
250 mL/ ½ cup chocolate pepper tea
2 pork chops
S & P to taste
1. In a medium pan, ensure it has high sides and a lid that fits it; heat the olive oil until it slips easily across the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and cook until they are translucent and the juices are released.
2. Add the apples and mix in; I was surprised by the amount of onion. Add a splash of the tea to prevent the onions and apples from burning. You will be adding it incrementally. Lower the heat to low to allow it to caramelize.
3. Prepare the pork chops. Liberally salt and pepper both sides.
4. Scoop the onion mix into a separate bowl and reserve. They will be going back into the pan; this is to prevent them from burning. Raise the heat to high and splash about a tablespoon of the tea into your pan to deglaze and use a wooden spoon to dislodge the bits of delicious from the pan.
5. Just before the bubbling tea all disappears, lay the pork chops into the pan to brown. Leave for 2-3 minutes on each side. Keep in mind that my pork chops were approximately an inch thick, you might need less time; lift a corner of the chop to peak if you will.
6. Once the chops are browned, lower the heat and scoop the onion mix back in, nestling the pork chops into it. Add half of the tea and cover. Simmer for 15-18 minutes.
If the mix is starting to look dry, add some more of the tea. The tea is there to lend moisture and flavour but you don’t want to boil the chops. It should bubble from within the onions and create a beautiful caramelized effect on the pork chops.
Our dinner was served with a light green salad and spaetzle mixed with chevre and cubes of roasted nutmeg squash.