Wednesday, November 14, 2012

OMG a Recipe: Salt n' Peppa Pork Chops

Not that it's news to anyone, but when I have delicious Chinese food, I'm always reminded that they can take something so basic and just make it better. Curse you Asians, and your overachieving ways!! *Pause, to look at oneself in mirror, then slap palm to face* It seems like strange thing to go to a Chinese restaurant and order pork chops, but it's not just pork chops, it's something far better and more magical than the rubber-bouncy-ball version of overcooked pork chops you grew up with -- behold, Salt and Pepper Pork Chops Made Better by Asians.

My at-home version of Salt and Pepper Pork Chops - Photo by Wasabi Prime
This is by no means a statement that I make amazing salt and pepper pork chops. I'm actually a total n00b at making it at home, I was just tired of waiting to go out to where I can get good salt and pepper pork chops and wanted a Good Enough for Government Work version for at-home dining. I worked off a recipe I modified from Chowhound for their Salt and Pepper Pork Chop. My recipe-mods were adding toasted, ground red Hawaiian salt (just because I had it, Kosher salt would be fine, too) and Szechuan peppercorns to the dry coating -- I've heard the toasting is good, even for the salt -- and I didn't do a full deep fry, more like a pan-fry, where each side sizzles away in a smaller amount of oil, but all in a heavy wok. I have no issue with deep fried foods, I do have issue with my house being coated in a thin, sticky layer of cooking grease, because that's what happens when you fry with a crappy stove hood.

But back to the original point -- why is this version of a pork chop superior to the typical Sunday night dinner Mom used to make? For one thing, it's cooked just perfectly, not overcooked by the fear of trichinosis. My own Wasabi Mom admits she erred on the side of caution and rubbery meats when preparing the swine, so Pork Chop Night was never one of my personal favorites. And food is so often under-seasoned, but a really good salt and pepper pork is savory and a little sweet from the marinade, peppery of course, and it has that extra warming heat of the Szechuan peppercorns, which linger on the palate. It's good all on its own with rice, and it's just a basic, simple meal, but the preparation of the meat is what really delivers it as something you truly crave. And a crispy outer coating certainly adds to its charm.

Toasted salt and Szechuan peppercorns are pure magic - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Corn starch is the bomb-diggety. Salt n' Peppa should cut out Spinderella and find a performer named Corn Starch, because that is what really gives salt and pepper pork chops, along with a lot of other fried Asian foods that nice, dry-crunch coating. It's super absorbent for liquid -- I remember doing the DIY Silly Putty science experiment, adding just a little water to plain corn starch and it would soak it up and form that crazy elastic goo without releasing any of the liquid you added. I'm sure there's an Alton Brown Science explanation for all that, but the bottom line is, if you're making a dry coating on meats that you want to get crisp in a pan-fry, corn starch is your wingman.

Pan-fried crispy goodness - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I can never leave well enough alone, plus I knew a plain, abeit crispy-good pork chop sitting on a plate would look boring in a photo, so I made a funky mix of wokked vegetables and peanuts, seasoned with the leftover salt and Szechuan peppercorn mixture. It's not a typical thing to add to the crispy pork, but it added a little more color to the photo, and as we all know, that's all that matters when it comes to a food blog.

Things I learned from this experience -- I need a spice-dedicated coffee grinder or spice mill, as doing the mortar-pestle thing with toasted whole spices just sucks. It never gets milled as finely or evenly as you want, and you inevitably wind up with a surprise bite of a too-large piece of whole spice. So, on my Note To Self, save that 20% Bed Bath and Beyond coupon that they keep sending every month and I keep throwing away -- I can probably find a basic grinder there. Another thing -- get the giant box of corn starch in the baking aisle, as it's proving its worth beyond a little sprinkle now and then to tighten up sauces.

Mmm... CHOMP! Can't wait for pork chop night again  - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Salt n' Peppa (No Spinderella) Pork Chops

4 bone-in pork chops (boneless is fine, the ones I used still had the bones in 'em)
3-4 tablespoons  of peanut or vegetable oil, just enough to coat the bottom of a wok, and pan-fry

for the marinade:
2 tablespoons rice wine
1 tablespoon black vinegar (can use balsamic as a substitute)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon white pepper 

1 teaspoon sesame oil

for the dry coating:
1 cup of cornstarch
¼ cup of flour

2 teaspoons of finely-ground toasted Szechuan peppercorns and salt

Toss the pork chops in the marinade and let it soak in the refrigerator for at least 4-6 hours. When ready to cook, remove the marinated pork chops from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes to take the chill off

Combine the dry coating ingredients in a shallow tray to make it easier to coat each pork chop and transfer to wok or pan. Heat up a wok or heavy-bottomed pan to medium-high. Add oil to vessel and let it come to cooking temperature. Dredge each pork chop in the dry coating, making sure it's evenly covered, shaking off excess. Carefully place dredged pork chops into pan, being careful not to overcrowd -- two at a time is enough, depending on the size of your cooking vessel. 

Keep the heat at medium-high or medium, just enough to brown the meat evenly, but not burn. Keeping the bone in the pork will increase cook time, so it will need more time in the pan. When the meat is cooked through (use a thermometer if you're not sure), set each pork chop on a plate lined with paper towels to drain and rest. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper to finish  before serving.


  1. great recipe, denise! count on asians to make everything better :) i will totally try this recipe!

  2. OMG recipe salt and peppa pork chops. Useful post


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