.... a journalist ends up with nine pounds of stew.
The people at the Silver Stringers asked me to provide one of my renown recipes for publication in their electronic newspaper, but I'm rushed and out of time, so here's a good short one. Keep in mind this is being done by a journalist, not a chef. And I attempt to go thru this procedure step by logical step. Follow along closely please. If you get lost, jes' stumble along behind me. The stew will turn out all right.
Now we're southerners, even though we've lived in Melrose for most of the last fifty years. But southern cooking usually ain't too exact, and you kinda have to feel your way along as you go. You know, a pinch a' this, a snooker from this tin, and a fair handful from that barrel ... I'm sure that you'll come up with one scrumptious stew if you use these instructions to guide you.
One more thing: I'm male, and I have to write for other males -- which means I have to write everything out, step by repetitive step, careful not to assume too much understanding. The women know what I mean.
Don's Pork Stew Delight
First, line up a whole bunch of big pots and pans - including your pressure cooker - a few big kitchen knives, some cutting boards, lots of plastic mixing spoons, some soupbowls and some olive oil. This is preliminary and required, I discovered. Get lots of high-quality paper towels for cleanup and spills.
Then, read the newspaper ads until you can find a really good buy on those big packages of assorted pork chops -- you know, the ones cut too thin, left-over loins and pork stewmeat. They're the most economical, and frankly, nothing tastes as good as a good cheap meal done well. At this point, if you haven't been to the supermarket, go now. It might be well to bring along the list of your ingredients, just in case your larder is low.
You need about two or three pounds of that on-sale pork assortment. For goodness sake, don't buy a roast or anything like that, cause you'll just have to cut it up to chops anyway. But keep in mind that the bones add real good flavor, but they gotta be removed before eatin'.
The key to pork stew ....
The key to a really fine pork stew is to brown the hell out of the chops before you do anything else -- except for lining up your pots and other implements. Take your largest skillet -- preferably a 12-incher -- fire up a medium-to-high flame, pour in a fair amount of olive oil, and start browning the chops as they fit in the pan, both sides, of course. Supplying pressure with a spatula always helps to enhance the browning. And be prepared to have the oil spit all over the place. You see, cleanup usually takes as much time as cooking, in my way of preparing food. It's fast and furious.
But get those chops really rich brown. No nambie-pambie browning. Really get aggressive. And for goodness sake, don't trim the fat -- yet. This isn't a dieter's dish.
Browning two-three pounds of pork chops properly usually takes about an hour, simply because you have so many of them. Be sure to wear an old and durable apron to protect your midriff area. I got a little scorched by not paying attention to this detail, once.
Now the browning is important because that's what really makes the essence of the flavor in a good pork stew. You'll have to renew the olive oil now and again, but don't skimp. As your chops get nicely and thoroughly browned, simply fork them into your adjacent pressure cooker. This is a necessary step since browning pork chops usually makes then tougher 'n the hide of a 50-year-old gator. And twelve minutes in a pressure cooker makes 'em edible again.
You know how your pressure-cooker works, but in mine, I put a half cup of water in the bottom (with the browned chops on top of a spacer), seal 'em up, and when the pressure builds up proper, cut back the flame to low and let 'er go for some twelve minutes. And I always let the cooker set on a cold burner for a while before removing the regulator -- which time adds to making the chops a little more tender. Tenderer, Grannie used to say.
Grannie said they're tenderer that way ....
In Grannie's time -- she was born in 1858 'n died 93 years later, still cooking on her wood stove -- practically every ingredient was provided from the farm, which Grandpa ran as a means to a livelihood. Nowadays rather than going out and picking basil or cilantro, you have it in a handy foil package, or frozen, even canned. Well, here's one place I count on my mother's way of making a stew -- she used stewed tomatoes from CANS!
Getting back to ingredients, the list is rather simple:
Two to three pounds of pork chops and olive oil to brown them.
Two nice large onions.
Five or six carrots, sliced and diced.
A box (10 oz) of frozen lima beans, either baby or Fordhook. Fresh if you got 'em.
Frozen (or canned) corn -- one package of 10 oz.
One green pepper, finely diced.
Some salt and lots of pepper, to taste.
Minimum of two cans (15-16oz) of good stewed tomatoes (best to have a couple more on hand - I actually used four because I over-did on the other ingredients).
While the chops were browning, I managed to scrape and cut the carrots, chop the two onions, finely dice the pepper, zap the corn in the microwave, and cook both the limas and the carrots also in the microwave -- each of which requires about ten minutes. Check out cooking directions on the box.
Even tho I used a splatterscreen on my 12-inch teflon frying pan, the grease splattered everywhere. It's just something you've got to put up with, particularly if you brown the chops on a medium high heat. And as the chops were done, I dumped them directly into the pressure cooker, on top of a spacer disk, which allows melted fat to run off.
The onions were dumped in the same grease from the chops, and so they were browned with the flavor of the pork. This also serves to clean the pan a bit, as if that were some significant matter. The package of pork chops that I bought (99 cents on sale, and actually I bought two packs, one for the freezer) weighed 3.75 pounds. So I used them all, which was too much, so I had to add two more cans of stewed tomatoes and maybe one can of water to provide enough liquid for dunking the Italian bread.
Again I sauteed the finely diced green pepper in the pork/onion pan -- all of which provides more flavor.
Ahhh -- putting it all together ...
And finally, with my five-quart kettle, I began mixing the ingredients: two cans of stewed tomato, which by the way, I diced first -- the carrots and limas, the onions and green pepper. Since there is already a fair amount of salt in the cans of stewed tomatoes, I'd go easy on further salt, at least to the end when you can best judge. In the meantime, I dumped in a mess of black pepper. That's essential to Southern cookin'.
I also include the liquid that the veggies were cooked in -- anything to add to the flavor.
The final step is to hand-strip the pork chops, removing the obvious fat, picking the meat from the bone, and breaking it apart into small, irregular pieces -- nothing bigger than a dime. When I got done with my 3.75 pounds of pork, it became obvious that we needed more stewed tomatoes, and more liquid. And so I added two more cans of chopped stewed tomatoes.
Then the kettle went on a burner to simmer for an hour or so.
I ended up with a kettle of really outstanding stew, but it weighed seven or eight pounds and filled the entire 4.5-quart kettle. Well, the next day we went up to visit Brian and Priscilla Simm, former Melrosians who are now retired in Hillsboro, NH, where five of us (including their son Steve) managed to do away with half of my pork stew.
I got a hug and a kiss from Priscilla, a hearty pat on the back from Brian, and a passing wave from Steve as he was on his way out. Young people are always in a rush to go somewhere.
I was amply rewarded for my two-hours of labor. Not only that, but Lorry and I have enough pork stew to last us three more meals.
Just as a footnote, Priscilla had set the table with candlelight, a beautiful flowering gloxinia as a center piece, handsome cloth place mats and her silverware. Wine was a hearty burgundy, but what really enhanced the evening was this magnificent view from their front window -- we looked down on a running field of deep snow, bordered by hardwoods and spruce, the Sunapee mountains as a background, all glistening in moonlight. And of course a friendship that dates back more than fifty years. How's that for the perfect pork stew!
May 19, 1998