Stuffed Pork Chops with Fresh Herbs

You can make this dish ahead of time, hold in the fridge, and pair with a salad for a quick summer meal. It’s really a delicious thing to do to a pork chop.

Makes 2 amply stuffed chops

For stuffing:
1 tbls. butter
1 small onion, diced small
4 large, fresh sage leaves, chopped
2 sprigs of thyme, chopped
1 sprig of marjoram, chopped
2 cups dried bread cubes (see notes below)
3/4 c. chicken stock
1/8 tsp. salt (or adjust, if your stock is salted)
pepper

2 bone-in pork chops
1 tbls. olive oil
salt, pepper
1/2 c. chicken stock

  1. Prepare the stuffing. Melt butter in a medium skillet and sauté onion for a few minutes until soft.  Place the bread cubes in a medium bowl and prepare them by breaking a few up with your fingers. (This helps the stuffing to stick together a little bit more. If you left it all as cubes, it is more likely to fall out of your chop.) Add the onion and butter to the dried bread cubes. Add remaining ingredients. Mix with hands, squeezing the bread so the liquid is absorbed.
  2. Slice a pocket into your pork chop. With a paring knife, cut along the edge of the chop, towards the bone. Be sure that, when you cut, you cut down the middle, leaving about an equal width of meat on each side.
  3. Stuff the chop. Really get it in there! You should have a little sticking out the edge. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the chop. [At this point, your chops can rest in the fridge.]
  4. When ready to cook, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium.  Cook for 4 minutes on each side.
  5. Add 1/2 c. stock to pan, cover and cook on medium low for 12 minutes.

Notes:

  • Stuffing is a great thing to make when you have old bread (or perhaps a loaf that didn’t bake up the way that you expected.) You get about 2 cups of stuffing for half a loaf of bread.
  • To prepare the dried bread cubes: Cut your loaf of bread into about half inch cubes. Spread out on a cookie sheet and bake in a 200F oven for one hour. Store these in the freezer so they’re ready to use easily.
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Cherry-Rhubarb Sauce for Pork

I had some cherries in the freezer that were looking for a special purpose and picked up some rhubarb at last week’s market. If you’re on the hunt for new flavors, this quick dinner meets the need. I adapted it from this recipe, which uses dried cherries.)

one very small onion
3 oz. cherries (fresh or thawed from freezer)
2 large stalks of rhubarb (about 8 oz.)
2 tbls. sugar
1 tbls. vinegar (I used some locally made plum cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar would work nicely, as well.)
1/4 c. water

pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper
2-4 pork chops

  1. Mince the onion finely. Drizzle 2 tbls. of olive oil in a saucepan. Put onion on to cook over medium-low until soft (about 10 minutes.)
  2. Trim rhubarb. Remove tough strings, if there are any. Quarter stalks lengthwise and dice coarsely.
  3. Add rhubarb, cherries, sugar, vinegar, and 1/4 c. water to saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high.
  4. Remove lid and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
  5. Keep sauce warm while you cook the pork. (To cook the chops, heat oil, season, and cook over medium for about 4 minutes per side.)

Cooking for the Week to Come

Sometimes you know its going to be one of those weeks.  Getting home late is pretty much guaranteed.  Getting home hungry is a certainty.

We try very hard to prepare for these weeks, when we know they are coming.  We try to have a freezer stocked with “quick meals” (ravioli – boil and eat, calzones – bake and eat).  Or we might prepare large quantities of a soup or a roast early in the week.  All this preparation allows us to eat a real meal when we most need it – without any real effort.

Unfortunately, this evening, I couldn’t quite face the second day of eating left-over pork roast for both lunch and dinner.  So I improvised using the same basic ingredients and created a Pork and Pea Shoot Stir Fry which made my evening.

Pork and Pea Shoot Stir Fry

Pork Stir Fry

Left over pork (about 4oz)
Large handful of pea shoots
1tsp chili paste
1 tbsp hoisin
Peanut oil

Slice about 4oz of cooked pork thin, on the bias.  Mix it with 1 tsp chili paste with 1 tbsp hoisin sauce – the pork should be lightly covered.

Heat enough peanut oil to just cover the bottom of a skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes.  Add the pork slices in a single layer and allow to carmelize.  Flip the pork and add a handful of pea shoots to the top.  After another minute or so, deglaze the pan with a small amount of sherry.  Stir the pea shoots around until wilted, tender and boldly green.

Serve.

(Note: Several of the pantry items in this recipe are not locally sourced – but you’ve got to use up what you have left over.)

Breakfast Sausage

Despite all of the sausage I made earlier in the year, I neglected to make breakfast sausage. There is something warming about well-browned breakfast sausage popping in the skillet, the smell wafting through the air.  It lends an air of comfort, even confidence to the morning.  Of course, I did grow up near a city once nicknamed Porkopolis.breakfast-sausage

Clearly, this had to be just the right breakfast sausage – it had to evoke these early emotions and memories.  But what recipe to make?  My charcuterie bible had little to say on the matter.  Other sausage making books had not one or two, but dozens of recipes in them with ingredients ranging from ginger to thyme to fennel.  During a weak moment, I considered the idea that maybe it wasn’t that big of a deal after all. Breakfast sausages have probably been made as many ways as there have been cooks.  But we had something special in mind:  the remembered, delicious flavor of those nearly burnt meat patties that probably came in a sad plastic tube from the grocery.

It was then I had the epiphany: The Joy of Cooking would know.  After a number of disappointing experiences with this legendary tome, I came back to it for the sausage.  Sure enough,  page 727 has a single recipe for “Country or Breakfast Sausage.”  Looking through the book again, I was reminded of how seemingly rooted in the midwest its recipes are. They are recipes from an earlier home.  Although obvious in retrospect, I never really appreciated that there might be the basis of a food culture there.  Clearly not as developed as the standards from various regions of Italy or France, but present in its own unique way.   In fact, for many of the standard preparations, whether breakfast sausage or egg noodles, The Joy provides simple, direct instructions that don’t surprise and taste like our childhood.  It’s considerably more well-rounded than I ever would have guessed earlier – from cardoons to miner’s lettuce –  many of the foods I’m only now discovering on the West Coast are covered.

And of course, without any fennel, chicken, veal, or thyme, here’s our classic breakfast sausage:

Childhood Breakfast Sausage

1.5 lbs. pork shoulder
0.5 lbs. pork backfat
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper (coarse grind)
1.5 tsp dried sage
0.5 tsp dried marjoram
0.25 tsp dried savory
0.125 tsp dried ginger (ground)
pinch of cloves (ground)
pinch of red pepper (flakes)
0.25 cups of water

Cube the pork and fat.  Mix well with dry spices and allow to rest covered in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  Run the cubes through the coarse die on the meat grinder into a cold bowl.  Carefully turn and mix with the quarter cup of water. Don’t work the meat too aggressively.  For this type of sausage we prefer a coarser, more mealy texture without the nice bind that’s needed for a stuffed sausage.  This should freeze well until it’s needed.

To cook: make small patties and cook in a skillet over medium heat until crunchy on both sides.

If you need a refresher on how to make sausage, see my earlier step-by-step article.

23 Pounds Later: A Journey in Fresh Sausage

Coiled SausageIt was an ambitious project, in many ways an overly ambitious project: 25 pounds of pig, 4 willing friends and a well-stocked home kitchen. But after having made fifteen pounds of fresh sausage and enjoying the fruits of our labor, we felt the satisfaction of an excellent meal well earned. The coming days would lead me into producing another 3 pounds of stuffed sausage (it was much easier the second time) and another 5 pounds of fresh sausage. This post will walk through the process of making fresh sausage, plus some tips learned through our experience.

With the exception of about 2 lbs. of ground beef, all of the sausage was made from pork and fat from the half-pig I purchased. The pig was locally raised on a small farm around the corner from us and the pork is the best we’ve ever had. Everything from the taste to the marbling to the smell of the raw meat exceeds my wildest expectations. (The bar was set very high, as we have been eating the amazing pork carefully raised by Skagit River Ranch.)

Getting Everything Together

For making sausage, having the right equipment and knowing what you intend to make is essential.  If you get to step 4 of the recipe and find the meat has to chill in the fridge for 24 hours, you are going to be disappointed.  We started simple – three types of fresh sausage with only basic ingredients: garlic sausage, sweet Italian, and a holiday Kielbasa.  Later I made a fresh variation on Knackwurst.  The book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing served as our bible for the process, and I strongly recommend anyone serious about making sausage pick up a copy. (We had three copies spread out on the table of this sausage making party, but one will do.)

Equipment:

  • A good kitchen scale (spices are measured in grams)
  • A standing mixer
  • A meat grinder (the Kitchen Aid mixer attachment works fine)
  • A sausage stuffer
  • Room in your freezer

There are many types of sausage stuffers.  I used a Grizzly 5lb Vertical Stuffer.  Given the importance of keeping the meat cold (you can freeze the cylinder) and the necessity of modifying the speed of stuffing, I can’t imagine the Kitchen Aid stuffing kit would work at all.

Make sure your meat is defrosted, spices available, and casings are soaked in water in the fridge.

Preparing the Meat and Fat

Dicing the porkThe simplest part of the process was preparing the meat and fat.  In order to do this we cut pork back fat and pork shoulder into about 0.75 inch dice.  Toss in a large bowl with the dry spices and put it back in the fridge.  Give the spices and salt plenty of time to work on the meat – at least 30 minutes.

Grinding

Grinding meatOnce the meat has had a chance to chill and absorb the flavorings, run it through the grinder.  This is typically done with a fine plate – if using an older grinder make sure it has the cutter blade.  Grinding is a slower process, and trying to rush it will end up heating the fat which gums up the grinding and ends up slowing you down.  For a five pound batch you will want to work in smaller batches keeping the meat refrigerated.  Even though the Kitchen Aid grinder is mostly plastic, sticking it in the freezer for about 30 minutes before using helped considerably – we also chilled the mixing bowl we were grinding into in the freezer.

Mixing

Mixing sausageAfter the grinding, the ground meat was stuck into the fridge again to chill.  Any liquids you may need should also be chilled near ice cold temperature.  If the recipe calls for wine, its best to use a decent bottle.  Our garlic sausage had a cup of a very nice local Pinot Noir from Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery, and it moved what could have been a plain sausage into a culinary treat.  (Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery grow all of their own grapes locally – many winery’s don’t, so you should check carefully when drinking what you think is a local wine!)

Mix the meat until it gets tacky.  The book describes it as “almost hairy” in a appearance.  You are aiming for a well-worked meat that will have good bind.  (On a related note, if your meatballs often fall apart its probably this same situation – you need to work the meat until its sticks to itself well.)

This is a good time to cook a small bit of sausage and taste it (medium heat to 150 degrees).  The first batch we made was missing the salt.  By tasting it we were able to correct this before getting further along.

And then – back in the fridge.

Stuffing

Loading the "horn"The next step is stuffing the sausages.  If you are making loose sausage, you can stop now.  We used natural casings that came in a saline solution, so rinsing and soaking was easy.  If you have casing packed in salt, you should have rinsed and soaked long before this step.

Select the right size stuffing tube (sometimes called a horn), for your casings.  (We ended up with a smaller size than I thought I purchased.)  “Loading the horn” or sliding the casing onto the tube seemed like the hardest part of the whole process, but after having done it a few times here is some advice that will make it easier:

  • Wet the tub to help get the process start
  • Sliding the casing on an empty tube is much harder than a full tube.  If the tube is full of meat, a small bubble of air will form right aft the tip of the tube.  This bubble helps untwist the casing as it slides on.
  • Form neat, accordion like pleats as you slide the casing on.  You can slide the casing back as far as necessary, but when you start stuffing you’ll need to slide it forward.
  • If the casing tears, relax.  Simply cut it and stuff that much sausage and then reload the tube.
  • Leave a few inches hanging off the end

Stuffing sausageOnce you have the casing on the tube, you can start stuffing.  This is best done with two people – go slowly.  One person should hold the casing and provide a little resistance to it coming off the tube to make sure the casing is stuffed sufficiently – you don’t want a bunch of gaps of air in there.  At the same time, it is important to avoid overstuffing here – although it looks like a more satisfactory sausage, it will explode when its tied off.  The best advice here is to be patient and coil as you go.  If the sausage does break, its easy enough to stop stuff for a moment, pull off some extra casing and simply start again.

Tying off the sausageWhen you have a long coil of sausage, it’s time to tie the sausage off.  For this process, simple twist every other sausage in the same direction a few times.  You want to work the ends with your fingers so there is no meat in the twisting area.  This turned out to be the time when the sausage was most likely to burst open.  After a try or two, you’ll have an intuitive feel for how much sausage is too much in the casing.

A Few Notes

  • Leave plenty of time if its your first time.  Afterwards you can do the whole process in under 90 minutes for a five pound batch.
  • Keep everything cold. Really cold – it helps at almost every step of the process in subtle ways.
  • Even though it’s sausage, quality ingredients still make all the difference.
  • There is no going back.  Once you taste this stuff its going to be impossible to return to eating most store bought sausage (unless maybe you’re lucky enough to have a butcher like Avril Bleh and Sons).

Fresh Garlic Sausage

5 lbs. pork shoulder
1.5 oz. kosher salt
1 tbsp. coarsely ground black pepper
3 tbsp. minced garlic
1 cup Pinot Noir (or other red wine)
hog casings


Special thanks to Guido and Laurel for the photography and all who helped with this big project.