Living in Southern California where the sun is good for growing and the farms are plentiful, I am blessed to be able to get all manner of fresh fruits and vegetables at stellar prices. Now meat, on the other hand, is another story. Getting quality meats (ideally hormone-free, and free-range) that are locally sourced costs me an arm and a leg, and sometimes even more than that (tack on a few extra fingers to cover tax, and you get my drift). It is interesting, because people here are very conscious of eating well-sourced meat, but the supply of local beef/chicken/pork is low compared to other areas of the country. This supply/demand issue makes prices higher, and in some cases, the cost can be a little prohibitive. I find myself choosing quality over quantity, ie. eating better quality meat, but just less of it.
I found myself pondering this issue of the price of pork when I recently decided to make this recipe for Pork Chops Agrodolce a second and third time.
You see, the first time I made this recipe was when I was visiting my parents in Ohio. One morning I got an email from Williams and Sonoma, and I saw this recipe when I clicked through to their site. I was totally intrigued since I had never heard of this Italian sweet and sour dish before, and the recipe seemed so incredibly simple. I knew I was heading out to the Westside Market the next day, so I picked up some great thick-cut pork chops to make this for my parents.
3/4-inch thick, bone-in pork chops.
Now I don't know why I haven't talked it up more, but the Westside Market in Cleveland is fantastic. Even with all the farmer's markets around San Diego, I would die for a place like Westside Market here. In my eyes, one of the things that really sets the Westside Market apart is their selection of meats. There are tons of local farms - both small and large - outside of Cleveland, so there is a much larger supply of very high quality local meats. Plus, the Amish country is not far away and their meats (and cheeses) are always top notch as well. At the Westside Market, you can find any cut of meat you want, a plethora of sausages and bratwurst, and just about the best bacon ever. But, the real kicker are the prices.
For instance: When I was shopping for pork chops for this dish I got three 1-inch thick bone-in pork chops for about $11. Weighing in at around a pound apiece, these chops were a steal of a deal compared to prices at the supermarket here. In San Diego, the same thick cut pork chops are usually $6.99 or even $7.99 a pound, and at that price they are not even necessarily local or antibiotic/hormone-free. Looking at those prices I wasn't sure how much I wanted to make this recipe again... But then I saw some less expensive cuts - about 3/4-inch thick chops - and I thought I could surely adapt this recipe to save some money.
Chopped peppers for serving with pork chops.Pork Chops Agrodolce
And that is exactly what I did - Using the 3/4-inch thick chops, I adjusted the cooking times to ensure that they would stay tender and juicy, but still get ample flavor from the sauce. Basically I saved myself some cash, and got a dish that was still amazing for a quick weekday dinner, or a more special occasion on a weekend. That said, the 1-inch thick pork chops are certainly more indulgent if you can afford it (or if the prices are better where you live).
Now that I have effectively split hairs regarding the price of the pork for this dish, I hope I can convince you to try it by telling you how incredible this Agrodolce sauce tastes. "Agrodolce" is an Italian word meaning 'sour' and 'sweet,' and this sauce gets its sour flavor from reducing balsamic vinegar, and the sweet flavor is from honey. The vinegar and honey are simmered together with fresh thyme, which gives the sauce a slightly floral and earthy taste that is subtle enough to go unnoticed except by the most discerning palates. The sauce is also made richer by the addition of a little bit of broth and butter, and the final product is reduced to a thick and velvety consistency with the absolute perfect balance of flavors. The pork is partially cooked in this sauce, but at the end you can drizzle the sauce over the top and also over any vegetables or noodles you choose to eat with it.
If you like, you can also lick the pan. I won't tell anyone.
You might also like: Pork Char Siu Men
Adapted from a Williams and Sonoma recipe
I have made this recipe three times now already, and since it uses pantry staples, I can imagine that I will be making it VERY often in the future. It is easy enough to pull together in just about 25 minutes, which likely makes it the quickest elegant dinner option I have ever made. The original recipe called for 1-inch thick pork chops, but adapted it to cook 3/4-inch thick chops. This not only saves on the price point, but also decreases the cooking time. A win-win.
4 bone in pork chops, each about 3/4 in thick (to use chops that are 1 in thick, refer to the original recipe)
Salt and pepper to taste
About 1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp honey
1-2 tbsp minced fresh thyme
1/2 cup chicken broth
1-2 tbsp unsalted butter
For serving: Chopped onions and peppers, sauteed in olive oil with a splash of balsamic vinegar, and seasoned to taste with salt and pepper
To prepare pork chops, first season them with salt and pepper. Then heat the olive oil in a large fry pan or skillet over medium high heat. Add the pork chops and cook, turning once, for about 2 minutes per side, then transfer them to plate.
To make the sauce, reduce the heat to medium, and add the balsamic vinegar, honey, and minced thyme to the same pan used for browning the pork chops. Cook the liquid until it is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, and then increase the heat slightly to bring the mixture to a simmer. Return the pork chops to the pan, cover and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Then, uncover, turn the pork chops, and cook for 4-5 minutes more, basting with the sauce once. Transfer the pork chops to a plate and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
To finish the sauce, reduce the heat to high, and simmer for about 2-3 minutes or until the sauce is thick and syrupy. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the butter until it is smooth. Drizzle the sauce over the pork chops and serve immediately with sauteed peppers and onions, or your favorite vegetables or salad.