This Sept. 16, 2013 photo shows sauteed pork chops with grapes and mustard sauce in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)
When I was in high school, my mom and I threw all kinds of dinner parties.
OK, she threw the parties and I helped with the cooking. Our go-to entree was veal scaloppini. I liked it no matter how we cooked it. At the time it seemed so fancy. Now I realize that it was all about the sauce. In its velvety blandness, veal really is little more than an excuse for sauce, a cake in search of frosting.
This recipe substitutes pork chops for veal. A generation ago, this switcheroo wouldn’t have worked; the chops would have been too rich and fatty. But modern-day engineering has turned pork chops into that other white meat. They have very little fat and, consequently, very little flavor. Fat is a conductor of flavor, as well as a provider of moisture.
Accordingly, one of today’s standard-issue supermarket pork chops is nearly as suitable as veal as a vehicle for sauce — and it’s cheaper, too.
Fine, you say, but isn’t it going to take me a ton of time and effort to make a good sauce? Not necessarily. There are, of course, a world of sauces to choose from, and many of them are indeed big productions. But pan sauces, as I discovered during my restaurant days, are speedy to make, and that’s what this recipe calls for.
A pan sauce is built from the concentrated bits of juice left in the bottom of a skillet after you’ve seared a protein. Transforming those flavorful little nuggets into a sauce requires nothing more intricate than dissolving them with the aid of a liquid, usually wine and stock, and adding some extra flavor, often in the form of sauteed shallots or onions. This template works not just for pork, but for all thin cuts of chicken, lamb, veal and beef.
Still, you’re going to want to thicken this sauce. If I were working with a homemade chicken stock, this wouldn’t be a problem. But I’m trying to get dinner on the table on a weeknight, so I typically use store-bought chicken broth, which lacks the gelatin that thickens a sauce.
What to do? Coat the chops with flour, preferably Wondra, an instant flour that Granny used to use. It will not only thicken the sauce, but keep the meat from drying out even as it provides a crisper crust than regular all-purpose flour. Good old Wondra will also come in handy when you’re making pan gravy at Thanksgiving because it’s been formulated not to lump up.
The big flavor in this sauce comes from the grapes and the mustard. I never knew how “grapey” a grape could be until I first made sole Veronique — sole served in a cream sauce with peeled (!) green grapes — in cooking school. You’ll see for yourself. Though we’ve skipped the pesky peeling part.
Pure pleasure aside, grapes are also a terrific source of resveratrol, the powerful antioxidant found in wine. So, in one quick, economical and widely adaptable recipe you get big flavor, good health and a pan gravy. Maybe that’s pretty fancy after all.