So, for the first time in my life, I'll be cooking Christmas Eve dinner. Cooking big dinners isn't new for me—before taking the job as Houstonia dining editor I regularly hosted dinner parties. One year for a Friendsgiving meal I cooked a goose (we named it Sprinkles for some god-awful reason while I had some sort of mid 1980s Phil Collins thing going on), so yeah, I had experience.
But do we always have to do the big thing for those holiday meals? Do I need to slave away for hours (let's be real, days) mastering duck?
Houston Cooks, the 2019 cookbook by Francine Spiering that includes multiple recipes from about 40 local chefs, is a pretty awesome compendium for all seasons. Sidney Degaine's (Mona Fresh Italian) cured salmon and yogurt-cucumber salad is a perfect summer dinner, while smoked lamb chops with caramelized onions from Harlem Road BBQ's Ara Malekian feel right at home in the springtime. But what about holiday dinner? Instead of playing duck, duck, goose this year, I decided to consult Houston Cooks for an option.
My answer? A pretty incredible (and simple!) entrée of seared pork chops with strawberry-sorghum glaze and boudin mashed potatoes from Jessica Timmons and Felix Florez of Cherry Block Craft Butcher & Seasonal Kitchen at Bravery Chef Hall. Timmons knows a thing or two about pork, since Cherry Block is a true ranch-to-plate concept, taking meat raised by Florez at his Black Hill Ranch and butchering it for lunch and dinner.
And this pork chop? Easy peasy.
"It's a really simple dish," says Timmons, who cooked a couple plates of the dish for us at the Houstonia offices. She uses a thick-cut, heritage-breed pork chop, which she seasons with a proprietary rub (salt and pepper will do just fine, but you can add some cayenne for heat and smoked paprika) and sears for two minutes on both sides (on a cast-iron pan). Then she puts that in the oven for 10-12 minutes in 350-degree heat.
Then there's a strawberry-sorghum glaze. For this, she reduces sugar cane vinegar (1/2 cup), sorghum syrup (or molasses) (2 tbsp), and puréed strawberries (1 tbsp) in a saucepan over medium heat with some hot sauce (1 tsp), salt (1 tsp), and pepper (1/2 tsp). Once reduced by half, butter (1 tbsp) goes in cold, mixed until melted.
For the potatoes, she boils eight peeled and quartered Yukon gold potatoes for 10-12 minutes, then adds a stick of butter (room temperature), milk (1/3 cup, room temperature), salt (1/2 tbsp), and pepper (1 tsp). She garnishes this side with chopped green onions, though in Houston Cooks, she goes a step further with boudin. You can also add a veggie (in this case braised collard greens), and any roasted or braised fall veggie works well.
In all, the recipe takes about a half-hour to master, though it might take longer depending on your veggie. But it smells and tastes delicious and makes for a great dinner party entrée or even midweek winter dinner.
Want more of this and other recipes? Houston Cooks is available where books are sold.
A few things to keep in mind when cooking for yourself or others, from chef Timmons:
- Start potatoes in cold water when boiling. "You don't want the outside to cook faster than the inside ... it gets mushy before the inside's done."
- Always salt your water when boiling. "In my world there are three things that you can never over-salt: Pasta water, potato water, and white rice."
- Sous-vide is great because it ensures a thorough cook, but get an immersion circulator. "They're only about $100 now. It's a great gift for the cook in your life." Timmons recommends Joule by Breville, which has a predictive and responsive cooking feature. Essentially, tell Joule the doneness you want, and it'll do it.
- When making mashed potatoes, get your butter and milk to room temperature before adding to the starches, or else the potatoes won't absorb the liquids enough.