Operators look to brines, crusts and other flavor boosters to make classic chops all the more appealing.
This article first appeared in the 1 December 2009 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. Visit the R&I website to find out more about the magazine or to search its recipe database.
By Jennifer Olvera, Special to R&I
"There's a perceived value in serving something with a big bone," says Louis Lambert, chef-owner of Lambert's Steaks, Seafood & Whiskey in Fort Worth, Texas, noting that chops' status as nostalgia-inducing comfort food adds to their cachet. "And because of the bone, there's also built-in flavor."
To further ramp up this flavor, chef-driven restaurants and noncommercial kitchens alike turn to uncomplicated but high-impact techniques such as brining, smoking, crusting and frying. Though these approaches add an extra step or two, much of the work can be done in advance, making final prep and pickup fast and simple.
At Lambert's Steak, Seafood & Whiskey, Chef Lambert prepares pork chops using a trio of techniques: brining, smoking and grilling.
"Brining adds moisture and smoke lends flavor to meat that's otherwise fairly neutral," he says.
First, the chops are brined in a mixture that includes oranges, brown sugar, coriander and fennel seeds. Next, they're coated lightly in a brown-sugar-based dry rub (which also contains paprika, chili powder, coriander and fennel) and cold-smoked with oak and fruitwoods. Then, to order, the chops are grilled and paired with seasonal accompaniments. On a recent menu, Lambert topped the chops with a slaw of apples, blue cheese and walnuts and served them alongside green-chile grits with Jezebel sauce, a sweet-and-spicy Southern specialty.
Mark Stark, chef-owner of Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Stark's Steakhouse and three other area establishments, takes a two-tiered approach: marinating and then grilling Moroccan-style double-cut lamb chops.
"What I like about chops is they're something the public ‘gets,'" he says. "This allows chefs to sneak in flavors customers wouldn't normally go for."
Stark marinates the chops-which are frenched for a more-elegant presentation-in a lemony, curry-scented mint chutney. To order, they're seasoned and grilled and then paired with couscous salad and two sauces: the mint chutney and a cardamom-tinged barbecue sauce, both prepared ahead of service to reduce execution time on the line.
Although individually portioned and packaged chops save labor in the kitchen, they come with higher price tags. To cut food costs, Stark, like an increasing number of chefs, breaks down as much meat as possible in-house.
"In the case of pork, for example, I get a loin and use leftovers for sauces, pulled pork and other dishes, so there's no waste," he says.
Adam Mali, executive chef at Nick's Cove in Marshall, Calif., also is a fan of in-house butchering. He breaks down sides of veal and lamb, using the fat and flap meat to make stock and demi-glace.
"I'm able to control how it's done, and much of the work can be taken care of before service begins," he says.
Recently, Nick's featured herb-crusted rack of lamb with huckleberry sauce. After a quick sear on the grill, the meat is spread with Dijon mustard and coated in an herbed panko crust that includes mint, thyme, rosemary and lavender. The dish is finished to medium-rare in the oven.
"It's full of flavor, and the crust adds texture," says Mali, who prepares the crust up to two days in advance. "Plus, it makes the dish feel ‘dressed up.'"
As general manager of foodservice operations at Athens, Ga.-based St. Mary's Healthcare System, Mark Abbott considers serving extra-lean cuts a top priority. For menus at the facilities he operates, Abbott portions pork loins into boneless chops-which are easier to trim-and cold-smokes them in-house.
"I make everything from buttermilk-fried pork chops to herb-crusted porchetta," says Abbott, noting that he will partially cook some dishes-larger pork roasts, in particular-ahead of time. He brings them up to temperature at service, sautéing the dishes to order and slicing them into "chops."
DRESSED FOR SUCCESS
The 12-ounce breaded veal chop that stars in Costoletta alla Milanese at Donato Enoteca in Redwood City, Calif., offers twofold appeal for the restaurant: The $23 menu price makes the premium cut a value for customers, and the dish can be turned out speedily in the kitchen.
"The execution is quick because we pound and bread the meat beforehand," says Chef Donato Scotti, who pan-fries the chops in oil and butter. The fresh accompaniments-arugula-onion or heirloom-tomato-and-basil salad, both finished with lemony olive-oil vinaigrette-also are easy and straightforward.
Veal chops typically are among a restaurant's more-expensive offerings; with relatively simple preparations, nontraditional chops also can command higher prices. The elk saddle with butter-poached apples, radishes and ricotta from The Gage in Chicago costs customers more than the 16-ounce aged rib-eye steak. Executive Chef Dirk Flanigan gives the meat a basic marinade of olive oil, garlic, thyme and rosemary and grills the chops to order.
At Soldier Field in Chicago, frenched, chicken-fried lamb chops with black-pepper aÁ¯oli make elegant passed hors d'oeuvres for private parties. The chops are marinated overnight in buttermilk spiced up with powdered ranch dressing; at service, they're dredged in flour (with a little additional ranch mix) and fried to order.
"I cook them to medium so the juices don't bleed out and make the breading soggy," says Mark Angeles, executive chef for the Delaware North Cos. account. "Then I dollop the aÁ¯oli on top and finish the chops with a chiffonade of herbs. It's a substantial, easy-to-eat starter."
HERB-CRUSTED LAMB CHOPS
Breadcrumbs, toasted: Â½ cup
Parsley, minced: 1 Tbsp.
Rosemary, minced: 1 tsp.
Mint, minced: 1 tsp.
Thyme, minced: 1 tsp.
Lavender, minced: Â½ tsp.
Garlic clove, grated: 1
Extra-virgin olive oil: 1 Tbsp.
1 lb. rack of lamb: 1
Olive oil: as needed
Salt and fresh-cracked black pepper: to taste
Dijon-style mustard: to taste
To prepare herb crust, combine breadcrumbs, parsley, rosemary, mint, thyme, lavender, garlic and olive oil in a bowl. Mix until smooth.
Brush lamb with olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Grill over high heat until marked on both sides; remove from heat.
Brush a thin coat of mustard over chops; press herb crust on top. Roast at 350F-400F until medium-rare, about 10 minutes. Let rest at least 10 minutes before carving.
GRILLED PORTERHOUSE PORK CHOPS
Chef-owner Louis Lambert
Lambert's Steaks, Seafood & Whiskey,
Fort Worth, TexasYield: 6 servings
Water, divided use: 4 cups
Onion, roughly choppe: Â½ cup
Kosher salt: Â½ cup
Brown sugar: Â¼ cup
Bay leaf: 1
Coriander, toasted: 1 tsp.
Fennel seed, toasted: 1 tsp.
Whole black peppercorns: 1 tsp.
Garlic cloves, crushed: 2
Orange, quartered, juiced: 1
Fresh thyme sprigs: 2
12-oz. porterhouse pork chops: 6
Brown-sugar rub: recipe follows
Bring 1 cup water to simmer. Add onion, salt, brown sugar, bay leaf, coriander, fennel, black peppercorns and garlic. Whisk together; simmer for a minute until dissolved. Add remaining water, orange juice and segments, and thyme. Cool brine.
Place chops in a resealable plastic bag or large, nonreactive container filled with brine. Marinate, refrigerated, 8 to 12 hours. Remove pork from brine, scrape off residual spices and pat dry.
Lightly coat chops with brown-sugar rub. In a smoker with oak and fruitwoods, cold smoke the chops at 90F or below for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Transfer to refrigerator; hold for service.
To order, grill chops over medium-high heat, 4 to 5 minutes per side, until internal temperature reaches 165F. Remove cooked chops to a plate; let rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.
BROWN SUGAR RUB
Brown sugar: Â¼ cup
Kosher salt: 2 Tbsp.
Black pepper, medium ground: 1 Tbsp.
Paprika: 1 Tbsp.
Chile powder: 1 Tbsp.
Coriander, toasted, ground: 1 Tbsp.
Fennel seed, toasted, ground: 1 Tbsp.
Mix ingredients together; store in an airtight container