This is How We Learn

Oy. You guys.

A brief survey: Have you ever been so excited to cook something, so meticulous about its pairing and preparation and so trepidatious about screwing it up that when you do, somehow, screw it up you have to sit down on the floor of the kitchen and practice yoga breathing in order to not explode into a fit of toddler-like proportions?

Is this just me? Because that is exactly what happened with the beautiful Mangalitsa pork chops I was going on and on about just the other day. They look so harmless here, nestled in their bed of Brussels sprouts, poised to ruin my evening.

As my uncle, Mitch of Tasty Travails, reminded me, "Lessons!" And he's right. Namely, don't cook on auto-pilot, don't split up a beautiful double-boned chop into two single ones at the last minute for no reason, pork chops are notoriously hard to cook correctly and meat thermometers are actually important. I'll be honest with you all, somehow, after all that careful planning and constant eying of the oven, I cooked these until they were hockey pucks made of shoe leather and disappointment.

Sometimes I get so riled up about honoring the ingredients, doing justice to the hard work that the producers of this pork have no doubt undertaken that I need to be reminded that, at the end of the day, they are just pork chops and I can try again next week. Which is another one of those things that my Sidekick is really, really good at. And it wasn't all for naught. We were able to fill ourselves up on the cider and butter braised Brussels sprouts and the turnip mash with ramp butter underneath (have to use it up before spring).

I know it looks like ice cream, but it's rendered bacon fat. And has gone into just about everything I've cooked this week.
The trick to Mangalitsa, I've learned, is dealing with all the glorious fat that makes these pigs famous. And boy is there a lot of it. After (successfully) cooking the amazing bacon we got on the same occasion, I've come to terms with the fact that low and slow is the only proper way to go with this stuff. If you try to rush them, that fat will toughen right up without rendering and make you very, very depressed. This is how we learn.


  1. You know, this has happened to me with the last two pork chop recipes I tried! I'm starting to develop a pork chop complex.

    Also, where's the recipe for the rendered bacon fat? That's something I need to do ASAP.

  2. @Tyla - Shoulder is always my preferred cut. Now I remember why.

    Also, the rendered bacon fat came off a pound of mangalitsa bacon that we just slowly baked in the oven at 350, until it was just crispy. Make sure you use a sheet pan with a serious lip around the outside because after it was strained, I had about a 1/4 pint of solid bacon fat. I keep mine in the fridge in that little jar pictured above.

  3. I'm sorry you had trouble with your Mangalitsa chops.

    I've eaten a lot of Mangalitsa. Done right it is incredible.

    I recommend you try cooking sous vide. It takes the stress out of cooking.

    There are several options. Here's an inexpensive machine that people like: http://www.amazon.com/SousVide-Supreme-Demi-Water-Oven/dp/B004CO5R76/ref=sr_1_5?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1299824019&sr=1-5

  4. @Heath - Someday when I have a little more counter, one of those will definitely have a home. I place the blame for this event squarely on my shoulders and most definitely not on the shoulders of those woolly little pigs.