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Rick’s Famous Sardinian Pork Chops

Rick’s Famous Sardinian Pork Chops

My pork chop recipe dates back to a trip I took to Sardinia in the fall of 1984.  I had completed my doctoral dissertation on issues related to coastal zone management in Sardinia in 1980.  Paola translated the dissertation into Italian and the region of Sardinia published it, held a conference, and invited me as the keynote speaker.  I flew to Italy, Paola’s brother picked me up at the airport, and we headed off to Sardinia with his car.  The most convenient ferry from Civitavecchia is overnight, so we took that one to Olbia and then went off to explore the Aga Khan’s glitzy tourism development on the Emerald Coast.  That afternoon we headed south and stopped in the small mountain town of Jerzu. 

Now, you need to know that while Sardinia has twice as many sheep as people (1.6 million people) the regional dish is suckling pig, not lamb.  It’s unusual to find pork chops on the menu on the island—they really believe that any pig over 20 pounds is too big to eat!  But we stopped in the only restaurant in Jerzu and the fellow there offered pork chops, so we said we’d take what he had.  He brought out two of the best pork chops either of us had ever eaten; and since Alberto is a chef, that’s saying a lot!  It turns out that he had browned the chops with a little garlic and then slow cooked them in red wine vinegar.  This allowed the chops to marinade as the wine vinegar cooked down to make a fabulous sauce.  Sardinian red wine is hearty and delicious, so of course the red wine vinegar was equally great.

Since that time in Jerzu, I’ve eaten lots of pork chops cooked this way and with variations that add variety and improve the final dish.  Here’s the brief recipe with variations to try:

Ingredients (this recipe is for one pork chop; just double everything except the olive oil for two people–Paola doesn’t eat meat so I’m usually just cooking this for myself):

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 pork chop (boneless if you have no dog; I like the bone in – or at least Michi does!  Also, thin-cut pork chops with the bone are more flavorful and absorb the marinade better) 
  • 4-6 ounces of dark, red wine vinegar (see substitutes below)
  • Salt and pepper to taste (I like fresh ground pepper)

While the olive oil heats, slice the garlic into slivers or chop it if you have the patience.  I slice the garlic right into the oil as it warms.  Once the garlic begins to sizzle, put the pork chop gently in the skillet and brown it on high heat for 3-4 minutes on each side.  Reduce the heat to medium and pour in the vinegar.  You can cover the pan while the wine heats up, but then cook it on slow to medium, only partly covered.  The wine needs to evaporate and leave its wonderful reduction sauce.  Toward the end of the cooking process add the salt and pepper.

Variations:  I’ve been known to drop sliced mushrooms into the pan around the pork chop while it cooks in the wine, just for some variety.

Instead of red wine vinegar you can use ANY of the following (some of these actually make for a better flavored sauce):

  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Japanese rice vinegar (some of these have sugar which I don’t care for)
  • Red wine
  • Apple cider vinegar (excellent – even better than the red wine vinegar)
  • Fat Tire Amber Ale from New Belgium Brewing Company (this is actually the best!)

Another variation:

Paola has a battle every fall with the raccoons in the neighborhood to see who gets the plums from the Italian (what else?) plum tree in the back yard.  They usually end up splitting the harvest, but this year Paola got the better of the raccoons and we have a nice supply of plum sauce in the freezer!  It’s great on yoghurt, but it’s also delicious on my pork chops.  When I’m tired of my standard recipes I take a half cup of plum sauce (it’s liquid since she doesn’t use pectin) and put that on the pork chop during the last few minutes of the cooking process.  It’s scrumptious!

The very last variation:

Paola reminds me of her mother’s recipe for pork chops, which came from a friend or sister (that makes this a grandmother’s recipe from 90-year-olds!)  She browned the pork chops and then poured a cup of milk in the pan.  I’m sure the original recipe used whole milk, but anything would work.  The milk cooks down to create a lovely sauce that is delicious with black pepper. 

Whatever variation you try, Buon appetito.