My long-suffering wife's jaw gaped when I carried our pork chops to the table the other night, loaded with a glistening, thick and succulent dark-brown sauce.
"Looks great!" she said. "But aren't we watching calories?"
Always. That's the dues you have to pay for having a job that requires eating and drinking regularly and all too well. But the other day, while pondering the dilemma of fitting classic (or not-so-classic) sauces into a healthful lifestyle plan, my thoughts turned to wine cookery. I thought you might enjoy looking over my shoulder as I fashioned an individual twist on an old technique.
First question: Why do we use sauces? Whether we're talking about the "mother" sauces of classic French cuisine (that's Bechamel, Veloute, Hollandaise, Mayonnaise and Espagnole, for the trivia fanciers among us) or Cajun roux-based sauces or even truck-stop milk gravy, sauces add flavor and a rich, comforting texture to a dish.
Second question: What's the No. 1 criticism of sauces? They're bad for us, or so the conventional wisdom goes. Laden with fat from butter or oil and often eggs or cream or both, they enhance the dish but at a high nutritional cost. It's no coincidence that modern food writers rarely mention "sauce" without modifying it with adjectives like "fatty," "heavy" or even "gloppy."
In the light of these questions, the cook's task becomes clear: How can we achieve a thick, silken sauce that boasts lots of good flavor without approaching the calories-from-fat count of a Big Mac? Thickening isn't a serious issue, as a bit of flour, cornstarch or such exotic alternatives as arrowroot will take care of that. Flavor? How about wine? And not just wine, but heavily reduced wine, boiled down to its essence! Add a choice of aromatics for flavor complexity, sauteed with minimal oil or butter in a non-stick pan, and we should be able to come up with a sauce alternative that both Escoffier and your cardiologist would approve.
And so it went. Over the next several nights I fashioned a number of sauces, trying both red and white wines with assorted flavorings and spices; and they all passed muster at the dinner table. A leftover Sicilian red with a bit of light beef broth and chopped leeks made a succulent topping for a pork chop (recipe below). A similar procedure with leftover Austrian Gruner Veltliner reduced to a near-syrup with chicken broth and minced red onion yielded a delicate light sauce with a delicious lemony tang for packaged tortellini. And a sauce of heavily reduced red wine with the soaking broth from dried porcini mushrooms plus the porcinis, white mushrooms and garlic made a great topping for corkscrew pasta.
All the procedures are essentially similar, but they differ dramatically depending on the wine and aromatics you choose. Master the recipe below, and you'll soon be creating your own.This week's recipe: Pork chops in a red wine sauce
You have to have a few pans going at once to make this dish, but it's surprisingly quick and doesn't require as much juggling as you might think.
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
Two pork chops. We used butterflied boneless chops, about 6 ounces (180 grams) each.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup (250 ml) red wine
1 cup beef broth
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
Salt and pepper
1. Wash the leek thoroughly, discard the dark-green portion, and cut the white end into lengthwise quarters, then cut the quarters across into fine shreds.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick sautee pan over medium-high heat, then put in the leeks. Cook them until they're soft and translucent; don't worry if a few bits start to brown. Push them aside, put in the pork chops, and sautee until they brown a little, adding salt and pepper to taste. Then reduce heat to very low, add about half of the beef broth, cover the pan, and cook gently for about 20 minutes or until cooked through.
3. While the pork chops are cooking, make the sauce. Put about 1/2 cup of the red wine into a small skillet or pan and cook it over high heat until it evaporates almost completely, a process that should take only a few minutes. When it has thickened into a small amount of syrupy liquid, add about half of the remaining beef broth and cook it down again until its thickening. Pour the result into the cooking pork chops, and repeat the process a second time, using the rest of the wine and broth. This highly concentrated wine-and-broth reduction will add a remarkable color and flavor to your dish.
4. When the pork chops are done, remove the cover from the pan and thicken the remaining liquid with the cornstarch mixture, adding a little warm water if necessary to end up with a texture that suits you.
MATCHING WINE: This one is a no-brainer. If you use 1 cup from a new 750 ml bottle, this leaves about two-thirds of the bottle to serve with dinner, and drinking the same wine you cooked with is almost always a natural match. If you're using leftover wine, match your dish with any wine of similar style - in this case, a dry red, probably lighter in style than you might use with beef or lamb. A relatively simple Cote-Rotie (Jaboulet's 1995 "Les Jumelles") worked well for us.)Emeril Sweepstake: Where's the bread!?
Our four-week "Emeril's Missing Ingredient Sweepstake" on WineLoversPage.com is now concluded, and we hope you've enjoyed the fun of searching for the missing ingredient in a series of recipes from celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse's new cookbook, "Prime Time Emeril."
As many of you noticed, a careless error in the publication of last week's challenge recipe made it easier than expected to pick the missing ingredient: "Bread" was inadvertently omitted from the ingredient list for Emeril's Cherry and White Chocolate, er, BREAD Pudding. Although that wasn't the intended missing ingredient for contest purposes, we're accepting entries from all of you who - with varying degrees of sarcasm - pointed out this obvious lapse.
We'll announce the winners and all the missing ingredients in next week's FoodLetter, and will send out all the prizes shortly. We will also keep the recipes online for a while; you can find them at http://www.wineloverspage.com/emeril/index.phtml.
Thanks to all who participated, and congratulations to the winners!Let us hear from you!
If you have suggestions or comments about The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter, if you have suggestions or comments about the direction we're headed, or if you would like to suggest a topic for a coming edition and recipe, please drop me a note. I really enjoy hearing from you, and I try to give a personal reply to all mail if I possibly can. The Ask A Question form at http://www.wineloverspage.com/ask_a_question.phtml is the easiest way to reach me, and I encourage you to take advantage of it.Administrivia
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Thursday, Feb. 21, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.
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