When I was a kid, I visited my grandparents (Afi and Amma) in Reykjavik every summer. They lived in a gray concrete apartment building with a green square of grass in the back. Their windows were hazed with lace curtains, and at night white light quietly tiptoed into otherwise dark rooms. As I tried to sleep, jetlagged and unused to so much night light, I listened to the ticking of clocks and sometimes chimes as another hour came full circle. Because Afi and Amma didn't have a lot of space, I slept on a blue canvas fold-out cot in the dining room, which was put away every morning.
I spent most of my time there either reading or playing on the carpeted stairway that was the main entrance to the building. The outside door had a buzzer; my grandparents' names were hand written next to the button and slightly water stained. The air of Reykjavik was chilly and smelled a bit like fish, while the water in the pipes smelled and tasted like sulfur. Because Afi managed the building I got to go into the basement with him a few times: It was clean, dry, painted concrete with pipes running along the walls. He was a trim, capable man, unconsciously confident in his capabilities, like many of my Icelandic relatives.
Sometimes I went with him to the fishmonger. The fishmonger had a tiny store in a row of about five tiny stores less than a block from my grandparents' apartment. Sometimes I would go and look in the window at the different kinds of fish laid out on ice in the window. They were sold whole, head on, and had cloudy eyes that stared at you. I knew nothing about the different kinds of fish that the fishmonger sold, only that most were silvery gray and shiny. Sometimes, a red one would be in the mix.
So what is the point of all this remembering and what does it have to do with Ossabaw pork chops? It's all in the packaging: The neat butcher paper wrapped around the pork chops brought me back to Iceland, to the little stores on the corner and the green plastic net bag that Afi used to carry his groceries in. And it was a nice reminder that the small cares you take to prepare a pork chop, to wrap it up like a gift, because in some ways it is a gift, can have far-reaching consequences, can reach deep down into memory or seed the future with meaning.
That's what I took away one day a few months ago, when I made the trek out to Marshall, Virginia, to see my friend Jeff who works at The Whole Ox, a rare and wonderful artisanal butcher shop, because I had heard they had some Ossabaw pork and I was dying to try it (yes, it was a round trip of about 100 miles to get some pork chops). I first learned of Ossabaw pigs while watching an episode of The Four Coursemen, a show about some people who love beautiful, local, artisanal foods and wines and want to share their knowledge with others. Ossabaw pigs descend from pigs brought to the New World by the Spanish, supposedly the same kind of pigs that the famous Jamon Iberico is made from. Because these pigs have been isolated on Ossabaw Island off the coast of Georgia, they have mostly retained their unique genetic identity and flavor. Furthermore, because their diet comprises primarily acorns, their meat is said to have a nutty flavor.
To be truthful, I am not sure I detected the nutty flavor. What I did get from these pork chops was amazing flavor, the kind of complex, rich flavor that reminds you why foods that are grown with patience and care, on or in healthy soils, are so superior to processed junk, which are bland and lack dimension. Foods like these pork chops are so good that your best bet is to do very little to bring out their flavor. Because I was so eager to taste the pork itself, I kept the preparation simple: a little salt and pepper, a little thyme, a little butter, and a squeeze of lemon. Mostly I just tried to put some care into their preparation and to share them with family and friends. (My only regret was that I didn't get more of them when I had the chance.)
- 4-6 Ossabaw pork chops (the ones I got were very small and adorable, probably no more than 4 oz apiece; the size will affect the cooking time)
- salt, pepper, dried thyme
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 lemon
- Melt the butter in a pan over medium-high heat.
- Sprinkle salt, pepper, and thyme over the pork chops.
- When the butter is slightly browned, place the pork chops gently in the pan.
- Cook each side for about 3-4 minutes per side. Spoon the melted butter over the pork chops regularly.
- To finish, squeeze a little lemon juice into the pan and mix it with the drippings and the butter in the pan.
- Serve with the pan drippings. I served them with polenta, but anything that soaks up the drippings is a good option.
Oh yeah! I almost forgot, I've also got a new Facebook page! Check it out.