The recent descent from our unseasonably balmy winter into the current bone-chilling weather inspired an almost instinctual craving for soup -- namely, pho. After searching the boards of Chowhound, we ended up at Pho Bang, opposite Pho Bac in the Elmhurst strip mall formerly home to Joe's Shanghai (there's a healthy debate online over which restaurant is better: Pho Bang or Pho Bac. In the end, the consensus seemed to lean towards Pho Bang).
The pho didn't disappoint. The humongous bowl of broth and rice noodles draped with thin slices of beef was the warm and soothing antidote to the deep-freeze I was looking for. But, something else caught my eye (and palate): the pork chops my wife ordered. Though they were a little fatty, the sweet and tangy flavor was irresistable. And, soon enough, I had a new craving the next day to make them at home.
But, here was a problem. Grilled pork chops in the middle of winter? Despite my soup fix, maybe I was experiencing a delayed reaction to the onset of cold weather. Plus, we don't have a grill in our apartment, which would be a problem. Searching around online, I found an old "Minimalist" column by Mark Bittman (see recipe below), which takes a short cut to making Vietnamese-style pork chops. Rather than using the traditional method of caramelizing sugar with lime, Bittman substitutes honey to approximate its flavor. And if you don't have a grill, you can cook the chops under the broiler.
I made the pork along with a recipe for a rice vermicelli salad with mint, lime, and cucmber from Food & Wine. All in all, a perfect summer dish for the darkest days of winter.
Kitchen Notes: My biggest concern was that the pork chops were not going to caramelize under the broiler, but they actually did (with a few additional minutes of cooking time). The recipe for the salad calls for using a mortar and pestle to pound grind the garlic and sugar together. Instead, I used a mini-chopper to do the job, which worked fine. I accidently blended the herbs, too. Though this gave the dressing a brilliant green color, next time I would reserve some of the herbs, give them a rough chop, and toss them with the noodles separately. For leftovers, slice the pork and wrap it with the nooodles in lettuce leaves with a squeeze of Sriracha.
by Mark Bittman
From "The Minimalist: Vietnamese Pork Chops Demystified," New York Times (September 15, 1999)
2 tablespoons minced lemongrass
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon nam pla, or to taste, or soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
1 1/2 pounds boneless pork chops or country-style ribs
1 lime, quartered
Chopped Thai basil or cilantro for garnish (optional).
1. Whisk lemongrass, garlic, honey and nam pla in large bowl. Add lime juice and pepper. Place pork in the bowl, turning to coat; let stand while you preheat grill or broiler.
2. Grill or broil pork, spooning marinade over as it cooks, until nicely done, about 10 minutes. Turn only once so that each side browns nicely. Serve with remaining lime and, if you like, the herb garnish.
Recipe reprinted with permission from the author.
SUMMER IN WINTER Above, the final dish. Below, Anya demonstrates the art of horizontal noodle eating.