Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Pork chops to go with Sherry

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Pork chops to go with Sherry

One of the more interesting challenges for the wine-loving cook involves creating a new recipe designed to match a specific wine.

What ingredients and flavors can you introduce to the dish that will pair well with the wine? Should you go for similar flavors that will complement the wine, or boldly seek contrasting flavors to excite the taste buds?

Remember, too, that the finished dish should not only go well with your wine but must itself be harmonious. If it works with the wine but doesn't taste good on its own, that's hardly something to brag about.

Finally, to add a little more to the challenge, try matching your dish to a drink that lies well outside the traditional spectrum of table wines. This was my task recently as I sought to come up with a dish to showcase our WineLovers Discussion Group's Wine Focus for June, Sherry, specifically the light but potent Fino and Manzanilla style.

Fino with a main course? You won't find much guidance in the food-and-wine-matching books for that. A fresh Fino (and it must be fresh - see the June 6, 2007 30 Second Wine Advisor, Sherry Baby, can you come out tonight? for tips on deciphering the secret label code) makes a delicious aperitif. But this light but strong fortified wine, with its characteristic hazelnut and bitter-lemon flavors, is not usually thought of as an accompaniment for food beyond light bites such as nuts, olives, cheese and perhaps a round of Spanish tapas.

To build a dish that would work, I brought several basic food-matching principles to bear. I wanted compatible flavors, so something with nuts as one flavor element made sense. I needed bold flavors to stand up to the strong personality of the wine. Overall, a dish with earthy, slightly spicy flavors and perhaps just a hint of something sweet seemed just right.

I toyed with thoughts of seafood or fish but concluded that a lighter but flavorful meat was best. Chicken? No. Turkey? Maybe. Better yet, though, would be pork, fresh and natural. I prefer to avoid industrially produced supermarket pork with its injections of tenderizing slime, but luckily have a source of natural pork through local farmers' markets, and picked up a pair of inch-thick loin chops from Stonecross Farm in Taylorsville, Ky. I urge you to look around your own region for locally farmed natural pork. It's worth the effort.

Building on the earthy-sweet flavor theme, I pan-seared the chops, then braised them in a little chicken broth with caramelized onions (in-season Vidalias) and wild mushrooms (playing the "food miles" game, I got my hands on some wonderful oyster mushrooms from Sheltowee Farm in Bath County, Ky.)

So far, so good, and I could have plated and served the dish at that point. To point up the Sherry flavors even more, though, I needed some nuts - freshly toasted and chopped walnuts tossed with a little cayenne - and more earthy and spicy flavors, in the form of mild goat cheese (Southern Indiana's Capriole Farmstead for me) accented with just a whiff of Japanese wasabi horseradish. I topped each chop with a ball of cheese and nuts, let it melt just slightly; stirred the remaining toasted spiced walnuts into the slightly thickened pan sauce, and now it was ready to serve.

In building a dish like this, you need to guard against the risk of throwing in too many flavors to end up with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink effect. But this set of ingredients played together like the instruments in a cool jazz ensemble, and I kept the dinner simple by presenting it against a stark background of steamed white rice and a simple salad.

The Fino liked the dish just fine, and so did I.


(Serves two)

2 inch-thick pork loin chops
Sea salt
Black pepper
2 tablespoons (30ml) peanut oil
1/2 large Vidalia onion (or equivalent)
1/4 pound (120g) fresh oyster mushrooms
1/2 to 3/4 cup (120-180ml) chicken broth
1/2 cup walnut halves or chopped walnuts
Cayenne pepper
2 ounces (60g) mild goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon (3g) Japanese wasabi powder or paste
1 tablespoon cornstarch


1. Sprinkle the pork chops with salt and pepper to taste. Heat the peanut oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Put in the seasoned chops and sear them 2 or 3 minutes on either side until they're well browned. Remove the chops to a plate and keep warm.

2. Peel the onion and cut it in half along its equator. Slice vertically into thin strips. Clean and slice the mushrooms into bite-size pieces. (SUBSTITUTION: If you can't get oyster mushrooms or prefer an alternative, substitute any light, delicate wild mushroom or even white button mushrooms.) Over medium-high heat, saute the sliced onions in the skillet with the fat used for the pork chops, stirring frequently and cooking until they turn caramelized and brown. Add the mushrooms and cook just until they wilt.

3. Return the browned pork chops with any accumulated juices to the skillet with the onions and mushrooms. Add enough chicken broth to come about halfway up the sides of the chops. Loosely cover the skillet, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 10 or 15 minutes, turning the chops once, until they're tender.

4. Chop the walnuts coarsely and put them in a small, dry skillet over medium heat. Toast until they're aromatic, stirring frequently; take care that they don't scorch. Remove from heat and toss with a little salt and cayenne to taste. (SUBSTITUTION: Pecans or hazelnuts would work well, with slightly different flavors.)

5. Measure out the goat cheese and stir in a little wasabi, tasting as you go. You're seeking a subtle spicy flavor, and may not need as much wasabi as in the ingredient listing. If you have access to Capriole Farmstead cheese, try their prepared wasabi "log," which is addictive; but it's easy to fashion your own with plain goat cheese and packaged wasabi. Blend about half of the chopped, toasted nuts into the cheese, reserving the rest. (SUBSTITUTIONS: If you don't like goat cheese, use a little farmer's cheese or drained ricotta. If you don't like or can't get wasabi, try a little dry mustard.)

6. When the chops are done, form the cheese-and-nut mix into two small rounds and perch one atop each chop. Stir the reserved chopped nuts into the sauce. Re-cover the skillet and let the cheese warm through briefly, just until it starts to melt.

7. Meanwhile, mix the cornstarch with a little water in a small bowl and use this "slurry," a little at a time, to thicken the sauce to your liking. Plate the chops with the sauce spooned around them, and serve with rice (or small new potatoes) and a salad or vegetable.

MATCHING WINE: As noted, this dish was designed to go with Fino or Manzanilla Sherry, and it served very well indeed with the wines featured in the June 6, 2007 30 Second Wine Advisor, Osborne Sherry Manzanilla Fina and Emilio Lustau Solera Reserva Fino "Jarana." We're encouraging everyone to try warming up to Sherry in this month's Wine Focus, but if you're just not down with that, the flavors in this dish should also work just fine with your choice of Pinot Noir.

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