Pork Chops in Pipian
This is a recipe built on my memory of a dish I ate in a sticky-tabled Mexican restaurant in pregentrification Park Slope, Brooklyn: fried pork chops served over a thick, spicy sauce of seeds and nuts and chiles — what the cookbooks and histories of Mexican food call pipian, for the pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, used in its creation. It is hardly authentic, but it is simple to make and hugely delicious. Make sure to get a good hard sear on the pork chops before nestling them into the sauce, then serve with tortillas.
- Serves: 4 persons
- 4medium-thick pork chops, bone-in or boneless
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2tablespoons neutral oil
- 8chiles de árbol
- 3plum tomatoes
- 1small onion, peeled and thickly sliced
- 3cloves garlic, unpeeled
- ½cup raw, hulled, unsalted pumpkin seeds
- ⅓cup unsalted peanuts
- ⅓cup hulled sesame seeds
- ½teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼teaspoon ground allspice (or 2 allspice berries)
- 1canned chipotle pepper
- 2tablespoons neutral oil, lard or chicken fat
- 1cup chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium
- 1tablespoon kosher salt
- 1tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1tablespoon cider vinegar
Step 1Make the sauce: Remove the stems from the chiles de árbol, and gently roll the chiles between your fingers to remove the seeds. Discard seeds. Set a bare skillet over high heat for 5 minutes, then add the chiles. Toast until they are darkened and fragrant, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Place them in a bowl, cover with 2 cups boiling or very hot water, and set aside to soak.
Step 2Return the skillet to high heat. Add the tomatoes, onion and garlic, and cook, turning occasionally, until charred, approximately 10 minutes. Put the vegetables on a plate, and set aside to cool, then slip the skins off the cloves of garlic.
Step 3Return the skillet to medium-low heat. Place the pumpkin seeds, peanuts and sesame seeds in the skillet, and cook, stirring and shaking the pan continuously, until they are toasted and fragrant, approximately 2 to 4 minutes. Put the seeds and nuts in a bowl, and stir in the cinnamon, cloves and allspice.
Step 4Put the chiles and soaking liquid in a blender with the tomatoes, onion, garlic, the nut-seed mixture and the chipotle. Purée until smooth.
Step 5Add the oil, lard or chicken fat to a large, heavy-bottomed pot, and heat over medium heat until it is nearly smoking. Add the purée. It will sputter a lot. Lower the heat, and stir, cooking the mixture down to a thick paste. It will continue to sputter and pop. Add the broth to the paste, and stir, then season with the salt, sugar and vinegar, and cook for another 15 minutes or so, until it resembles a thick, creamy soup. Lower heat to a bare simmer.
Step 6Make the pork chops: Season the pork chops aggressively with salt and pepper, and dust them with the flour. Add the oil to the skillet, and heat over medium-high heat until nearly smoking. Add the chops, and let them cook undisturbed, in batches if necessary, until crisp and well browned, about 5 minutes per side. Set them aside to rest for 5 minutes or so. Serve a chop per person on a generous amount of sauce, with tortillas to mop it up. Extra sauce can be used to braise chicken, lamb or more pork, or as a topping for enchiladas.