The way to a young man's heart

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 November, 2010, 12:00am

When I was at university, cooking helped me relax. I began collecting cookbooks about various cuisines and attempted to make what seemed at the time to be extremely complex recipes, such as puff pastry, nor mei gai (tunnel-boned chicken stuffed with glutinous rice) and opera cake - all of which I've since mastered.

I cooked for large groups of friends, which was not easy on a student budget. And I had parties where people would pitch in to make everything from my grandmother's recipe for sui gau (boiled dumplings) to hand-rolled pasta with a rich ragu.

Of course, I also cooked for boys I liked: stuffed pork chops were a big hit, culinarily speaking. The relationships may have faded but the recipe is still close to my heart.

Stuffed pork chops (pictured)

Pre-salting the chops overnight makes the meat moist and tender and allows the salt to penetrate so the pork is evenly flavoured. If you're feeling extravagant, buy chops from Iberico or Kurobuta pigs. The meat is far superior to supermarket pork. Ask the butcher for chops of a similar size, so they cook at the same rate.

2 bone-in pork chops, each about 2cm thick and weighing about 250 grams

Coarse sea salt or kosher salt

About 40ml cooking oil, divided

2-3 thyme sprigs, plus 2 tsp thyme leaves

2 medium-sized shallots

2 medium-sized garlic cloves

35 grams thickly sliced pancetta

30 grams thin-sliced sandwich bread, crust removed

About 45ml cream

Finely grated zest of half a lemon

Freshly ground black pepper

Pat dry the pork chops with a paper towel. Use a sharp paring knife to cut a wide slit on the meaty side of each chop opposite the bone, then enlarge it into a deep pocket, opening on one side only. Lay the chops on the cutting board and sprinkle lightly but evenly with salt, pressing it in, then turn the meat over and salt the other side. Sprinkle salt into the pockets, then cover and refrigerate for at least eight hours.

Remove the chops from the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking and preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

To make the stuffing, mince the shallot and garlic. Remove and discard the skin from the pancetta then cut both meat and fat into 5mm-wide pieces. Cut the bread into 8mm cubes.

Heat about 20ml of oil in a small skillet, add the shallot, garlic and thyme leaves and cook over a low flame until soft. Turn the heat up to medium, add the pancetta and cook until golden, stirring frequently. Add the bread, season lightly with salt and more liberally with pepper, and stir until it has absorbed all the fat. Drizzle in the cream and stir over a low flame until the bread is evenly moistened. If it seems dry, add a little more cream. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and adjust the seasoning, if needed, then cool to room temperature. Finely grate the lemon zest over the stuffing and mix thoroughly.

Dry the chops, not forgetting the pocket, with paper towels. Divide the stuffing between the chops, putting it in an even layer deep into the pocket, but leaving room at the opening so it doesn't fall out. Press lightly on each chop to compress the stuffing. Sprinkle both sides of the chops with black pepper.

Heat an oven-proof skillet (preferably cast iron) over a medium-high flame until hot, then add about 20ml of oil. Lightly fry the thyme sprigs - they'll sizzle and pop - then remove from the pan and set aside. Brown the chops on both sides. Put the thyme sprigs on the meat and place the skillet in the oven.

Cook the chops for 10 to 12 minutes (or more, if they're larger), flipping them over halfway through. Transfer the chops to a warm plate and rest for 10 minutes before serving with freshly baked cornbread. Cheddar-jalapeno cornbread

115 grams coarse cornmeal

100 grams plain (all-purpose) flour

15 grams granulated sugar

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda, sieved

60 grams unsalted butter

15 grams honey

1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

180ml whole milk

1 large egg

50 grams sour cream

60 grams corn kernels (frozen or canned)

100 grams grated cheddar cheese

Canned or jarred jalapenos, to taste

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Lightly spray a 15 cm-square baking pan with oil. Drain the jalapenos and pat dry with paper towels, then chop roughly.

Melt the butter and stir in the honey, then cool to lukewarm. Combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, stir the lemon juice into the milk and set the mixture aside to curdle.

Whisk the egg in a bowl, add the sour cream and whisk again until smooth, then stir in the curdled milk. Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients, add the lukewarm butter and honey, and use a wooden spoon to combine - do not over mix.

Gently stir in the cheese and jalapenos, then scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until cooked. The cornbread will be fragrant, pale golden and the top will spring back when you touch it.

Allow to cool slightly then cut into squares and serve warm.

Styling Corner Kitchen Cooking School