Mint isn’t just for lamb, you know. I had a couple of beautiful pork chops given to me by a friend who raises organic pigs over near Bozeman. They deserved some special treatment.
I remember my mother slipping pieces of garlic into a pork roast via little pockets she would make using a paring knife. That aroma and flavor has always stayed with me. At the same time, mint is everywhere now, and, sad to say, in a few months it won’t be. So I decided to combine the two.
I’m so glad I did. I wrapped mint leaves around thin slivers of garlic, and made the same little pockets in my chop that my mother used to make in her roasts. I used the back of the knife tip to work the tiny bundles down into each one. I ended up with four of them on each side of the chop. Once I grilled them, the heat of the fire warmed the oils in the mint leaves so they could infuse their way into the meat. And the garlic gently roasted. The pairing was heavenly.
When the chops came out of the oven for their brief rest, I cut a potato into 1/4″ thick slices and flip-flopped them in some olive oil and seasoned them with salt, pepper, and some red pepper flakes. I laid them on the grate over the still-hot coals. With about 3 minutes on each side, they were perfectly browned and crisped. The olive oil dripping into the coals created a wonderful smoky note. They made a perfect bed for the slices of chop.
As a solitary cook, I prepared just one of these beauties. I’m holding onto the other one for another night.
- 2 porkchops, about 1″ thick
- 16-20 large leaves of fresh mint
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced as thinly as possible
- Olive oil
- Sea or kosher salt and grinds of pepper
- A good charcoal fire
- Lay your chops on your work surface. Beginning along one edge, make slits about 1/2″ deep that are 1″ apart. Fold a sliver of garlic into a mint leaf. Using the BACK of the tip of a paring knife press the little bundle into one of your slits. Repeat until all have been filled. Repeat on the other side being sure not to place them in the same spots as on the first side. You should have about 4 filled slits on each side.
- Film the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil. Set the chops in it, then turn them over so that both sides are coated. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Cover them with plastic and let sit at room temperature for an hour.
- After about a half hour, light your fire. I’d definitely suggest springing an extra dollar or two for hardwood charcoal over briquettes. Use propane only if you must.
- Before you head for the grill with your chops, preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Yes, I know it hot, but it’s only 225 degrees. You’re going to sear the chops for flavor on the grill, then let them finish cooking in a gentle oven. Place them on the grill. Grill for 3-4 minutes per side. Remove to a clean, oven-proof platter and take them inside to the oven. Finish in the oven for 10 minutes. Build into your serving hour enough time for the chops to come out of the oven and rest for 10 minutes before plating. Cover them with foil or plastic and a couple of kitchen towels. This is an important step. Exposing any protein to heat stresses it. When stressed, the cells tighten up, squeezing water to their outsides where it can easily be cooked away by exposure to too-high heat for too long. It’s just like squeezing a sponge – you start with something moist and end with something nearly dry. By using the heat of the grill to sear the surface for great flavor, then finishing cooking in a gentle oven, you’ll minimize the amount of moisture loss. Then by allowing the meat to rest, covered, at room temperature, you’ll allow the cell walls to literally relax, say, “Whew! That’s over!” As they relax, water still roaming around on their outsides (because you haven’t overcooked it away), reinflates the cells. That is the perception of tenderness and juicy-ness we all love.
- To serve, arrange a bed of grilled potato slices on each plate. Slice each chop into 1/2″ thick slices and arrange over the potatoes. If using bone-in chops, be sure to place the bone on each plate. Chewing on it at the end may just be the best part.