Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Lighten up, old fella

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 Lighten up, old fella
Some of my favorite cookbooks date back to the 1970s, when we sure used a lot of eggs, butter and cream! Here's a lighter version of a favorite Pierre Franey pork chop dish of the era.
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Lighten up, old fella

It's hard to believe how the years have flown since I - along with a lot of Baby Boomers - started getting seriously interested in food, wine and cooking back in the 1970s and '80s.

I've still got quite a few favorite cookbooks left over from those days - Julia Child and James Beard, of course; Marcella Hazan for Italian and Julie Sahni for Indian and so many more. Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey of the New York Times were favorites; and Franey's "60 Minute Gourmet" and its sequels - French meals that could be done in an hour - probably influenced my own techniques more than any other. Since I mastered Franey's simple premises, I've rarely if ever spent more than an hour on dinner again.

It's mind-boggling to realize that I've had my falling-apart copy of Franey's first book since it was published in 1979, almost 30 years ago. Time flies while you're having fun, they say, and also perhaps when you're gaining weight.

And therein lies the moral of today's sermon: When I started cooking out of those books back then, did I really use all those eggs, butter and cream? Times have changed in many ways, and so have recipes. Indeed, when Marcella Hazan, now an active octogenarian, published "Marcella Says" in 2004, a full 31 years after her first book, "The Classic Italian Cookbook," she cut way back on cream and butter ... and her recipes were just as good as ever.

When I go back to one of my golden oldies, I find that I can routinely reduce fats to make a healthier, and often a simpler, dish without seriously compromising flavor. (On the other side of this coin, fats taste great, and one primary key to memorable restaurant cooking is simply using pure cream and fresh butter and eggs in quantities that would horrify unsuspecting diners if they knew. This is your call, but for me, if I did that every night I could paint myself silver and go to a costume party as the Goodyear Blimp.)

As a simple example, I've recently experimented a couple of times with Franey's Côtes de Porc Ligègeoise - pork chops in the fashion of Liège, Belgium. Sauteed, garlicky pork chops are draped with a blanket of melted Gruyère cheese and mustards and served sizzling. If this preparation sounds more Burgundian than Belgian, there's a reason for that: In the late 15th century, Liège was subject to Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy and the French kings.

This lighter version eliminates an egg yolk, uses whole milk in place of heavy cream, and simplifies several steps - it's all done in a heavy skillet, skipping a wine deglaze and a run under the broiler, bringing Franey's 60 minute procedure down to just 30 or so.

As always, I urge you to avoid industrial pork if at all possible. Naturally raised "pasture pork" without additives or moistening slime is available in most metro areas now, and it's well worth seeking out even at a premium price.


(Serves two)

2 pork loin chops, about 1 inch thick and 8-10 ounces (240-300g) each.
Black pepper
1-2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon (30ml) olive oil
2 ounces Gruyère cheese, enough to make 1/2 cup (120g) when grated and loosely packed
2 tablespoons (30g) seeded Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon (5g) Colman's dry mustard
1 tablespoon whole milk
Dash hot sauce


1. Take the pork chops out of the refrigerator a little ahead of time. Season them lightly with salt and pepper on both sides and leave them on a plate for a half-hour or so before cooking.

2. Peel the garlic cloves and smash them with the side of a chef's knife. Put them with the olive oil in a heavy skillet (black iron is best) large enough to hold both pork chops in one layer and place it over high heat until the garlic sizzles and becomes aromatic.

3. Put in the pork chops and cook uncovered over high heat, turning them occasionally, until they're well browned on both sides, about 10 minutes. Cover the pan and reduce heat to medium-low and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes or until the chops are just done but still juicy. You want to cook them through to the bone - authorities recommend an internal temperature of 160F (70C), although this includes a bit of a safety margin. A rosy pink center is entirely safe as long as the juices run clear.

4. While the chops are browning (or, if you prefer, do this in advance), grate the cheese, put it in a small bowl, and mix it with the mustards, milk and hot sauce to taste. Stir well, then form the cheese mix into two golf-ball size rounds; flatten each gently into a thick disk.

5. About five minutes before the pork chops are done, lift the lid and place one round of the cheese mixture on top of each chop. Re-cover and allow to cook gently until the cheese melts just enough to spread out and cover the chops. Remove immediately to warmed plates and serve; plate with a bit of the accumulated pan juices if you like.

WINE MATCH: I've made variations on this twice recently, once with the obvious choice, a decent if modest Burgundy, Frederic Mugnien's 2005 Bourgogne Pinot Noir, and another time with a perennial favorite, Mas de Gourgonnier 2005 Les Baux en Provence. In both cases, the intense but balanced Old World fruit and earth over crisp acidity and soft tannins made an excellent match. Alternatively, this Belgian heritage dish would make a great match with one of the hundreds of excellent beers of Belgium, perhaps a tangy, potent Abbey ale.

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