Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vegetable Adventures I, Part II: Pork Chops with Celery Root Sauce, Hashbrowns and Onion-Apple Compote

So, leftover celery root soup in my fridge was destined to become sauce on my plate. But sauce on what, you may ask? But you didn't really ask that, because you saw the photo and the title of this post. Very clever.

Anyway, I started off brainstorming with scallops. The idea of tender seared scallops with celery root sauce was making my mouth water. Then I thought about vegetables. I googled around to find some inspiration, but I ended up deciding on hashbrown potatoes. I thought a couple hashbrowns, some seared scallops, and some celery root sauce sounded like a fun dinner. But then I came home late and the fish market, which is not on my way home, seemed awfully far for something that was probably closed, plus Clément isn't a big seafood fan. Plus scallops are expensive. So I went with pork chops.

I wanted a little element of zing in the dish, as well, and while the dish appears visually to be a lot of stuff piled on top of other stuff, I really felt like all the parts worked well together. (All this in defense of my compote) The onion-apple compote was actually my favorite part, I think. And I liked the idea of revisited pork chops and apple sauce. The dish would even work well without the celery root sauce, but it was good too, and don't tell it I said that.

And so our dinner was born. And we ate it all, and licked the plate. Clément, who hadn't been a huge fan of the celery root soup, loved it as a sauce. Me too, but in fact I finished the leftover soup a couple of days later, and with a touch of heavy cream, I actually found it delicious. I think that means Vegetable Adventure I was a success.

I know now that celery root blends to a beautifully creamy consistency for soups and sauces, has a pronounced celery flavor, and pairs well with lemon, nutmeg, and apple. Another blog suggests vanilla bean as a pairing, and having explored this vegetable myself, I can concur that that would be fantastic. Celery root has a slightly sweet note to it where vanilla bean would chime right in.

So, here are my recipes:

Onion-Apple Compote

1 onion
1 apple (of same size)
1-2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 heaping tsp mustard
1 tsp maple syrup
olive oil

Heat olive oil in a skillet to medium heat, add chopped onion and apple, and turn heat down to low. Cover, and cook stirring occasionally until caramelized. Add vinegar, mustard, and syrup, and continue cooking while stirring for several minutes more.

This compote was great on pork chops, and we used leftovers on homemade burgers the next day, and it was equally great.

Hash Browns

I'd always heard that the secret to good hash browns was removing as much water as possible. It's true that this is very important, but I'm here to tell you that the two other most important things about making good hash brown are (1) USING THE RIGHT POTATOES, and (2) USING THE RIGHT HEAT AND RIGHT QUANTITY OF OIL. These two things will make your hash browns. Use potatoes with firm, waxy flesh which are ideal for frying. I used Charlotte potatoes, and they work like a dream. I also cooked them at a fairly high heat (medium-high) and in about 1/4-1/2 inch of sunflower oil. If the heat is too low, they'll drink the oil instead of frying, and if there's too little oil, they won't fry properly.

Potatoes (whatever quantity desired)
Oil for frying
Salt and pepper

Peel and grate your potatoes. Take handfuls of the potato gratings over a strainer in the sink and squeeze as much water out of each handful as you can, separating the squeezed handfuls from the non-squeezed ones. Once you've squeezed them all, put them all in the strainer and squeeze some more. Dry them with paper towels, set aside.

Heat about 1/4-1/2 inch of oil in a stainless steel skillet to medium-high. When it's hot, add a handful of grated potato, and flatten and shape it it with a wooden spoon into a little circular galette. Add as many handfuls as can comfortably fit in your pan at a time. When you notice browning around the edges, flip the hash browns. They should be browned and crispy. Cook on the other side until the same occurs. Place on paper towels (which absorb the extra grease so your potatoes don't have to, keeping them crispy), season liberally with salt and pepper.

Pork Chops

I've never known much about cooking meat, being that I was a vegetarian for quite some time and not a big meat-cooker even afterwards. But now I'm learning all sorts of things. My most recent lesson: cover your pork chops in flour, salt, pepper (and spices if you like), and then cook them in your skillet. You'll get a beautiful golden-brown crust. So I heated enough oil to very thickly coat (1/4 inch depth?) the bottom of a stainless steel pan, put in my pork chops when it was hot, and cooked them on medium heat until they were done (unfortunately I didn't time it, but it felt long... 15 or 20 minutes?). They were golden and crispy on the outside, and cooked through on the inside.

Celery Root Sauce

This is the easiest part. I took my soup, heated it and let it thicken up a bit, and that is all.

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