Ask Chef Phyllis:
Many years ago, my grandmother and great-aunt Theodora made a southern dish they called Deviled Autumn Pork Chops, For lack of more information, I know they used spicy mustard (maybe even more than one kind), country ham, and collard or mustard greens in it. In late autumn, when the pigs were slaughtered, it would be served as a special evening meal. Greens don’t like the hot nights of summer, but they regrow in the cool nights of fall. A free crop, if you will. If you know how to keep the chops crispy, I would surely appreciate knowing too. My crusting isn’t crisp, and the pork chops tend to be dry—and no one likes that. Can you help with this?
—Grace from Macon, Georgia
Deviled pork chops with spicy greens is a true southern classic in my book. This recipe is certainly worth revisiting. After all, everything old is new again, Grace. This sentiment seems to be the crux (or should I say the “meat and potatoes”) of my posts. Most of the requests I receive are for lost recipes from loved ones that were either discarded or misplaced over the years.
I’m not a southern girl, but my mom also made a version of deviled pork chops with escarole (a comparable green for us Italians) and ham. More often than not, the ham would be in the form of a slice of Prosciutto, also red in color like your dry, cured ham. Her breading was crushed pecans with a little wine to hold it together. And, of course, mustard and minced ham for the deviling. It was so delicious, and I remember looking forward to this meal whenever my mom made it.
Nothing rivals the taste of dry, cured southern ham fried in pork fat. My mouth is watering at the thought of the greens picking up all that country flavor.
I researched what I thought would be the crispiest pork chop you could make. I found a few with panko added to the final step. Sounds to me like this would be crispy, given that these Japanese crumbs are big and crunchy. Which was great, until I read that the finished chops would contain about 1,000 calories per serving. That’s a huge number of calories for an evening meal, when the digestive system shouldn’t be working that hard.
Here’s a recipe from both our worlds. It’s not only healthier, but it also solves the mystery of the dry pork chop as well.
Deviled Pork Chops with Spicy Greens
Chef’s note: Use a meat thermometer to test pork for doneness. Cook to 140–145°F only. It will be slightly pink inside. Most people overcook pork—a lesson we learned from our mothers’ kitchen. At this temperature, 1-inch thick boneless center-cut pork chops will be cooked to perfection. They won’t be dry, and the breading will still be crispy. Enjoy the memory. This one is special to me too.
2 tablespoons lard or rendered pork fat (I used the pork fat)
3 slices thick-cut black pepper bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large bunch mustard greens, collard greens, or escarole, washed and dried
1 slice (about 8 oz.) southern-style dry, cured country ham, slightly chopped
1 cup pecans, toasted and cooled (do not chop)
¼ cup dry white wine (I used dry sherry)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon any other yellow mustard
4 boneless center-cut pork chops (I used 1–1¼-inch boneless chops)
Special equipment: food processor
- Heat oven to 375°F. Melt lard or pork fat in large (10–12 inch) cast iron skillet. Add bacon and cook until almost crisp. While bacon cooks, add greens a little at a time until, only slightly wilted.
- Remove greens and bacon from skillet and set aside. Leave some fat in the skillet (or add more if necessary). Pulse (do not grind) ham in the food processor. Add pecans, wine, and both mustards. Continue to pulse until you have a thick paste. Remove mixture from processor.
- Use the mixture to coat the chops on one side. Place the coated side down in the skillet.
- Cook on low to medium-low heat 10–15 minutes. Turn and coat the chops on the top side. Transfer the chops, still in the skillet, to preheated oven. Cook exactly 10 minutes.
- Add greens and bacon to the top of the skillet and cook an additional 3 minutes under the broiler (this will keep the bacon and the coating crispy). Watch carefully—don’t burn. Serve with black eyed peas and biscuits. Some say it brings good luck.
Image from iStock/kanonsky.