I feel like my kitchen’s been neglected the last two weeks. It’s full-blown summer time and I haven’t been home early enough to make dinner during the week nor have I been in the city the past two weekends. When it was time to clean up the fridge and the pantry, I saw frozen pork chops in the freezer and some leafy green thing swimming in some sort of pickle juice which turned out to be preserved mustard greens. (I swear those are not the weirdest things you can find in my kitchen.) I honestly had no idea when I bought the pickles, but it didn’t look nor smell too bad when I cut the packaging open. I popped the chops and defrosted them in the microwave to prepare them for the only dish I can think of: breaded pork chops inspired by Excellent Pork Chop House, the restaurant across the Chinatown post office here in New York City.
When I used to work in Chinatown, it was one of our lunch spots. When I used to take the Fung-Wah bus to Boston back in the day to visit my friend, Mo!, for the Head of the Charles, I would hastily eat a bowl of Taiwanese pork chops with pickled mustard greens before boarding the long WiFi-less ride out of the city. A bowl with rice cost less than $5 and it was definitely better than the Popeye’s the other passengers ate on the bus. (Ah, Chinatown memories!)
Growing up in the Philippines, cornstarch was more familiar than flour. Breaded-anything used cornstarch; it also made Chinese-style sauces thicker. Cornstarch is so old school, it brings a smile to my face just thinking about it. It’s so old school, I smiled when I saw that I had a small container of it in my pantry. I can’t remember what I first bought it for but I was glad I had it for these pork chops because it’s always more feathery than flour for breading. (So okay, it might have gone past its expiration date, but it looked fine!) I wanted these chops to be lighter than fried chicken because I didn’t want to deep-fry; I merely wanted to pan-fry and cook the meat through by pressing on them with my cast iron grill press.
I served the chops by slicing them in thick strips after letting them rest, but not cutting all the way through so I could fan them before placing them on top of the rice. The mustard greens went on the side with the last of my pickled ramps. A quick splash of the frying oil and pickle juice on the rice completed the whole setup.
4 tbsps soy sauce
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsps sugar
a splash of white wine
4 tbsps five-spice powder
8 bone-in pork chops
1. In a large glass bowl, combine all the ingredients except the pork chops, cornstarch and oil. Mix together until the sugar and spices are completely dissolved. Marinate the pork chops for a couple of hours or overnight, turning them to make sure both sides are coated with the marinade.
2. When ready to fry, remove the pork chops from the marinade onto a plate. Using a small sieve, sprinkle a few taps of cornstarch on each pork chop with one hand while shaking off excess with the other so as not to make the coating too thick. Do this for the other side of the chops.
3. Heat some peanut oil in a large skillet. Add the breaded pork chops. Put the cast iron grill press on top to keep them flat. Turn chops once and cook until both sides are golden brown and the meat is cooked through. Remove to a strainer on a plate and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice in thick strips without cutting all the way through so you can fan each chop on top of a bowl of hot rice. Serve with pickled mustard greens.