I went through a craving for pork chops a month ago. It started when my golf group went for lunch after our monthly game at De Zalze (lovely course, by the way). Pork chops were on the menu at our chosen lunch venue (so bad I cannot possibly mention it by name), and instantly I was imagining biting into a juicy, tender piece cut from next to the bone.
What arrived, sadly, were unquestionably the worst-prepared pork chops I have ever encountered. For starters, they’d sliced one chop into two – well, that’s what it looked like – with the result that the chops were about 6mm thick.
Mistake number one: chops need to be cut thicker, so that one can cook them for long enough to caramelise the outside, without overcooking the inside. This is especially true of pork chops, which have hardly any fat in the meat (unlike lamb chops), and therefore dry out very quickly.
The most astonishing of all, though, was the way they’d cooked it, and the effect this had on the flavour. I didn’t see the kitchen in operation, but based upon the bitter, charred flavour with hints of gas flame, my guess is that they’d done it on a gas steak griller with the flames on maximum.
A week or two later I cooked pork chops at home, which I won’t describe here at risk of sounding immodest, but they did help to quell my cravings for a bit.
Last week, while in Johannesburg, I went to DW Eleven-13 for dinner. This restaurant had been highly recommended to me by foodie friends, and I even went so far as to research the menu online. By the time I was comfortably ensconsed in my seat, with menu in hand, I already knew what I wanted to eat. Yes, you’re right, the marinated pork chop. To be precise, it’s marinated with olive oil, fennel seeds, basil and chilli, served with bacon, borlotti beans and a rich lemon pork reduction.
That pork chop was gorgeous. It was more tender and juicy than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams (perhaps cooked sous vide before being finished off under the grill), and oodles of sauce with finely judged flavours. All it needed was mashed potato, which I had to order as an extra, at a stratospheric R35 for two table spoons.
Less heavenly was the texture of the mash. One certainly could never have used words like “fluffy” or “clouds”. In fact, if the wallpaper had unexpectedly started coming away from the wall the mash would have come in handy. You get the picture.
The restaurant dealt with the issue appropriately (profuse apologies and extortionate mash removed from the bill).
I didn’t have dessert, but was hugely impressed by the petit fours – chocolate truffles and turkish delight, both homemade.
By the time one has added the side order of mashed potato, the pork chop at DW Eleven-13 comes to R170, which is really, really expensive. That we’re willing to pay this much for an admittedly excellent dish says a lot about the ineptitude of other establishments.
Cooking a pork chop well is not a difficult thing, and yet so few restaurants get it right.
Eating at DW Eleven-13 is an exercise that requires some prior financial planning, but it’s forgivable, given this level of passion and excellence.
I will, however, have to find alternative ways of dealing with my occasional pork chop cravings!