A couple of weeks ago, I was planning my grocery shopping and asked my husband if there was anything he would like for dinner that night. After some consideration, he proffered, “Fried pork chops.”
As soon as he said the words I was transported to my early childhood. I had not yet started living with my grandparents, and on Fridays my Grandma would pick me up to spend the weekends with her. Almost every Friday night, she would prepare one of my favorite meals: fried pork chops, white rice, and steamed sliced carrots. Sometimes there would be Sunbeam dinner rolls served on the side. There would always be a dessert, but they were overshadowed by the chops. What I remember is how the smell of the pork chops frying would prick at my tastebuds and make my mouth water. I would bob in and out of kitchen, looking at the bubbling grease and the frying chops, the bowl of flour to bread them. I would notice how blood rose out of the bones as they fried, but I was not disturbed by this. Instead, I marveled at the transformative power of cooking.
At last they would be ready, and I would sit at the table waiting to be awarded my plate. I would first grab my pork chop, bits of the crust flaking away. I would devour every bit of meat and crust on it, suck the bone dry, maybe even try to dig out the gristle or marrow. The salted crisp of the breading melted on my tongue, preparing the way for the tender pork processional from each bite. Then I would stick forkfuls of rice into the crumbs so that they wouldn’t be wasted, mashing the sticky rice onto the plate so that no trace of the chop would be wasted. I ate in a near frenzy of pure pork devotion. It was one of my very favorite meals.
Years later, fried pork chops aren’t a food I have considered in a long time. They are homely, and they take a little work. I haven’t eaten them in over 10 years. At some point when I was in high school my Grandma quit frying, because she was aging and it was painful for her to stand over the stove. At that point fried pork chops faded from my gustatory repertoire. But now, these chops demanded my consideration. I was confronted with the challenge of making them. I knew it would not be as easy as I remembered. For one, I have never understood how my Grandma achieved such a crisp crust on her fried foods using only flour. No eggs, no milk, no soakers — nothing.
Knowing my own limitations, and also what works for me in the kitchen, I decided to change the preparation techniques a bit so that I would have results consistent with memory. Even though I changed the way they were breaded and fried, I seasoned the chops traditionally. To do so, I used a staple of my Grandma’s pantry, also a staple of mine:
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. In our house it went on pork and beef. Not french fries, not chicken, not veggies. Just pork and beef. It’s the secret to Southern flavor, or at least how I remember it. After seasoning the chops with Lawry’s, some pepper, and a whisper of cayenne, I soaked them in buttermilk. Then, I dredged them in a flour and cornstarch blend and fried them in vegetable oil. I wanted to achieve the salted tang the meat held in memory as well as a perfectly crisped crust. The technique worked brilliantly.
To serve, I chose traditional veggie sides that would appear on my family’s table in summer. I skipped the steamed sliced carrots in favor of corn on the cob, sliced cucumbers, and sliced tomatoes. With veggies so fresh, there’s no need to have anything overcooked or very complex. In a nod to my Grandma’s meals, I served white rice.
My husband and I ate the meal on our back porch, enjoying the breeze, the summer evening, the food. We gnawed on pork chops and talked about how we remembered eating them. His mom served them up with mashed potatoes. Sounds good for winter. Because, of course, I am already looking forward to making these again. Some traditions need to be remembered and continued.
Do you have any homely, everyday family recipe traditions that you would like to continue? I’d like to hear about them. They don’t have to be fancy to be important.
Fried Pork Chops
- 4 bone-in pork chops
- Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
- freshly cracked black pepper
- a couple pinches of cayenne
- 1-2 C buttermilk (enough to cover chops)
- 2 C flour
- 2 T cornstarch
- vegetable oil for frying
Season pork chops on both sides with Lawry’s and black pepper. On one side, sprinkle a pinch or two of cayenne pepper over the chops. Place the chops in a baking dish that just holds the chops, then pour buttermilk over the chops to cover them. It should take between 1 and 2 cups. Let the pork chops rest for about 30 minutes while you prepare the breading and the oil. Combine the flour and cornstarch on a plate or a shallow dish, stirring together with a fork. Heat a 1/4″ of vegetable oil in a large skillet to 350º. When the oil is hot, remove a chop from the buttermilk, shake off the excess liquid, then dredge both sides of the chop through the flour. Fry the chops in a single layer for 5-7 minutes per side. The chops will be golden, and the coating will bubble and crisp up. If you have to fry the chops in two batches, be aware that they will cook a little quicker and darken faster. Remove the chops to a rack or paper towel lined plate to drain. Serve hot. Leftover chops are delicious cold from the fridge and will keep for up to three days. However, they are best eaten the next day.