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Bruce Wallis’ grilled pork chops with goat cheese, curry-roasted fennel and pear chutney. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com
Bruce Wallis’ grilled pork chops with goat cheese, curry-roasted fennel and pear chutney. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

BRUCE WALLIS: Pork chops on the grill

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features Duluth, 55802

Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

Yesterday was like an old country song — all sun dappled and wistful with a big key change on the chorus.

I was mowing my fading lawn and wondering if it was even worthwhile to be out here on this cool day, trimming the last half inch from the tops of my poor blades of grass. Just when I had begun to lament the passing of such a short summer, the sun came out and warmed everything, including my disposition. I realized that even though summer was coming to an end, I still had time for another dip in Lake Superior, another concert in the park and most of all, I could still throw a few pork chops on the grill.

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Well-executed grilled pork chops are a simple, sweet and meaty pleasure, one of my favorite meals. So much so, in fact, that I often hold off on preparing them. I don’t want to be grilling pork chops left and right, eating the tender slabs of meat with wanton abandon. No, they must be prepared when you have time to enjoy and savor every bite, not bothered by distractions or obligations hanging over your head. It was this kind of thinking that made me almost miss one of the best meals of the summer.

There are three keys to grilling great pork chops: selection, brining and cooking temperature.

When selecting your chops, you should go with a medium thickness, about 3/4 to 1 inch. Thin chops cook very quickly and tend to dry out. Thick chops take so long to cook through that the outside becomes dry and tough before the inside is done.

Brining is essential to grilling moist chops. Since the pork loin is a very lean cut, there is no fat to help the chop stay moist. When the salt in your brine penetrates the meat it draws moisture in with it and retains that moisture throughout the grilling process.

Pork chops should be grilled over medium heat, an internal grill temperature of about 350-375 is ideal. For maximum flavor, sear the chops on both sides over direct flame or coals (about 2 minutes per side) then move them off the flame or coals, close the lid and cook for about 15 more minutes. They should feel fairly firm to the touch or measure 145 on an instant-read thermometer.

So now that you’re a grilled pork chop expert, why don’t you clear your calendar, fire up the grill and put on that old Merle Haggard record. You’re about to spend an evening in that delicious sliver of time known as Summer’s End.

Bruce Wallis is a chef, educator and food nerd from Duluth. Contact him at brucewallis16@gmail.com.

Grilled Balsamic Brined Pork Chops

4 medium pork chops (¾ to 1 inch thick)

2 cups water

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 cup salt

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 cup ice cubes

Combine all ingredients except pork and ice cubes in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk to thoroughly combine. Pour into a bowl, container or pan just large enough to hold the liquid and the chops. Let stand for 15 minutes and add ice cubes. Submerge chops in liquid, cover and refrigerate for 4-6 hours. Remove chops from brine and let rest while lighting grill. Be sure to have an area with high, direct heat and an area that is hot but with no direct heat. Blot excess moisture from chops with a paper towel and place over high, direct heat. Sear and mark chops on both sides, then move them to an area of the grill without direct heat. Close lid or cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until chops feel firm. They should measure 145-150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove chops, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 5-7 minutes.

Pear Chutney

This may be served warm, cold or room temperature. For this dish, I prefer to serve it warm.

2 ripe pears, peeled and medium diced

2 tablespoons raisins

2 tablespoons dried cherries or cranberries

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons water

4 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon freshly grated or minced ginger

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except pear, salt and pepper in a medium saucepan. Simmer over medium high heat for 5-7 minutes until dried fruits are soft and beginning to plump. Add diced pear, cover and simmer, occasionally stirring gently to keep fruit from sticking. When pear is tender and sauce is thickened slightly (about 20 minutes), remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste and keep warm or refrigerate if so desired.

Curry Roasted Fennel

Fennel is a root vegetable. The bulb should be washed well and the stalks trimmed. The fronds (leafy, frilly part at the end that resembles dill) can be reserved for garnish or can be chopped and added to salad dressings, soups, stews or sauces for a little anise-like flavor boost.

2 bulbs fennel, sliced from top to root into 1/2 inch slices

2 tablespoons yellow (madras) curry powder

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly spread a baking sheet with olive oil. Place fennel slices on pan. Sprinkle fennel slices with spice mixture until lightly covered. Drizzle with olive oil and place pan in oven. Roast for 15 minutes, remove pan and flip fennel slices over. Continue roasting until fennel is tender and browned, another 10-15 minutes. Remove and hold warm.

Assembly:

2 ounces crumbled goat cheese (chevre)

Fennel fronds for garnish

Place 1 or 2 pork chops on plate, depending on appetite. Arrange 3 or 4 fennel slices behind chops. Sprinkle a generous amount of goat cheese on top of chops. (This makes for a nice presentation but it is really delicious if you smear cheese all over chops.) Spoon chutney on top and serve.

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