What is it about Autumn that makes us all feel so nostalgic? Something about the sight of school buses making their way down my street and leaves crackling under my feet makes me feel wistful and reflective. I mean, I know it’s the obvious stuff… that the whole back-to-school thing reminds us of being in school ourselves, and dressing up for Halloween brings out the kid in all of us, etc, etc, etc… but for me, it’s more than that. All that blustery chill in the air makes me want to snuggle inside, light a spicy scented candle, and reminisce.
Yesterday, I got to reminiscing about the past year, and how much has changed. Around this time last year, the hubs and I were on a trip to Colorado, which we designated our “babymoon”. It was a great chance for us to spend some time together, just the two of us, before our lives changed forever (and, boy, did they!) Now, I don’t know if many of you have been to a Colorado ski-resort town in the fall, but it’s kind of, well… wonderful. Wonderfully quiet and cool and lazy and relaxing. We did a lot of napping, strolling, light hiking, movie-watching, and eating… oh, the eating. On our last night in town, we decided to treat ourselves to a really nice dinner. After much debate, we settled on the Grouse Mountain Grill in Beaver Creek. It was a truly lovely evening at a truly lovely restaurant with a truly lovely dinner partner. It’s a beautiful memory for a lot of reasons… not the least of which was the pretzel-crusted pork chop I ordered for dinner.
Now, I’m not much of a pork chop girl. You really wouldn’t catch me ordering a pork chop under normal circumstances. But something about this dish on the menu made me think, “Why not?” I like to think it was my guardian angel watching out for me, whispering into my ear, “Order that chop!” It was divine intervention, I tell you. Because, seriously… this pork chop was exquisite. Yes, I just used the word exquisite. About a pork chop. Let’s move on.
The chop itself was insanely good- juicy, flavorful, and tender. The pretzel crust was absolutely perfect- not too crunchy (nothing that endangers the roof of your mouth), but just the perfect crisp bite against the moist pork. You definitely tasted the pretzel flavor, too, which is so lovely. And then you have the sauce. Ohhhhhh, the sauce. Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t know if I can adequately describe it. Barely sweet, with only a slight sharpness from the mustard… it was the perfect counterpoint to the salty pretzels. Let’s just say that I almost asked for a soup bowl full of the sauce.
So, yesterday I was having one of those nostalgic fall moments and I was fantasizing about this meal, and I thought to myself… hey, why not try to recreate it? So as I was looking up recipes for pretzel-crusted pork chops, I found one that sounded very similar from a 2006 issue of Bon Apetit. I read on… only to realize that this is the same dish! The recipe actually came from the restaurant. And that, my friends, is when I got really excited.
A couple of disclaimers about this recipe first. It looks a little tricky. It looks like it’ll take a while. But in reality, it really didn’t. It calls for making candied orange peel, which I’m sure would turn a lot of people off from making this recipe. But it took me all of 10 minutes. And if you don’t want to make the candied orange peel, you could either buy some, or use a few tablespoons of orange marmalade for a substitute, and I bet you’d get a similar outcome.
There is also the matter of making a balsamic reduction in the original recipe. Now… I have a secret for you. If you have very good, aged balsamic vinegar, the kind that is nice and thick and syrupy… you really don’t need to reduce it. Aged balsamic is basically the same thing as cheap-o balsamic that has reduced down over time. Thus, you can turn cheap balsamic into something resembling an expensive, aged vinegar by reducing it on the stove. And vice-versa, if something called for a balsamic reduction, you can use a really nice, aged balsamic. I had a good quality balsamic from my favorite local olive oil shop, so I used that instead of bothering with a reduction and it was just right.
This is a perfect recipe if you are having guests over, because it’s delicious and a little bit special, but everything can be done ahead of time, so you’re not messing around too much over the stove at the last moment. But, of course, I made if for a Wednesday night dinner, which was pretty darn special, too. I like to think that as we tucked into our beautiful crusty-topped chops that we were transported for a moment back to our peaceful, dreamy vacation last year. Even though the view has changed a bit, from the mountainside to our little guy munching green beans in his high chair, the company and the food are just as delightful as ever.
Pretzel-Crusted Pork Chops with Orange-Mustard Sauce
adapted from this recipe from Grouse Mountain Grill
This is absolutely perfect served with buttermilk mashed potatoes and green beans, just as they plate it at the restaurant.
1/3 cup good-quality aged balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup water
1/8 cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1/8 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 cup crushed pretzel sticks
4 1-inch-thick center-cut boneless pork chops
4 tablespoons butter
Using vegetable peeler, remove peel from oranges in long strips, then slice peel lengthwise into very thin strips. Place peel in heavy small saucepan and add enough cold water to cover peel by 1 inch. Bring to boil; strain. Cover peel with water, boil, and strain two more times (3 times total). Return peel to same saucepan. Add 1/3 cup water and sugar. Boil until almost all of the liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside on a small plate to cool. If you’re making this ahead of time, let it cool completely, then store it in an air-tight container for up to two or three days.
Mix the cream, mustard, and 1 tablespoon candied orange peel in heavy small saucepan. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium and cook until sauce is reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. You can also make this up to 12 hours ahead of time- just store it in an air-tight container in the fridge and then gently reheat when you’re ready to eat.
Place flour in shallow bowl. Whisk eggs to blend in another shallow bowl. Spread crushed pretzels in yet another shallow bowl. Season pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Working with one pork chop at a time, press 1 side of chop into flour, dip the floured side into eggs, then press that side into pretzels. Repeat with remaining pork chops. You can also do this part ahead of time, up to 2 hours before cooking.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Melt butter in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork chops to each skillet, coated side down, and cook until brown, about 2-3 minutes. Turn chops over (so the pretzel side is face up) and transfer the skillet to the oven. Roast until pork is cooked through and thermometer inserted horizontally into chop registers 140°F, about 15-20 minutes. Let chops stand 5 minutes.
Spoon 2 tablespoons of the orange-mustard sauce onto each plate and place chop on top of the sauce. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve.