Last night, I made bone-in pork chops with grilled carrots, onions, and apples. This is a recipe I concocted, but like most, if not all things, it originates from other recipes I’ve seen that are now lost to memory or tucked away in some dark, deep recess of the Internet or a cookbook on a shelf somewhere. There are few recipes that I will claim as my own, especially if I know from where they originated. This is one of them, with hopefully, many more to come.
Up until a few years ago, I never would have claimed to have created a recipe, even as I revised and modified many recipes and maintained the differences I adopted as I repeated the meals over time. I don’t claim bone-in pork chops with grilled carrots, onions, and apples as my own because I believe it hasn’t been done before (it has) or because I have some sort of secret ingredient or cook any of the ingredients in any way that hasn’t been done before (I don’t).
I claim copyright, so to speak, because when I was faced with cooking bone-in pork chops and didn’t like any of the recipes I looked at, I began to improvise without any explicit guidelines or directions. That is not to say I didn’t have cooking experiences to draw on. Obviously, I did. And it is not to say that I wasn’t familiar with the ingredients and how they might work together. I had a good idea; in fact, I knew from experience what ingredients I wanted—I just never had had all of them together before.
I seared the bone-in pork chops in a stainless steel pan and then baked them at 350 until 145 degrees internal temperature—standard processes for cooking pork chops, I suspect. I kept the spices to a minimum—a little bit of salt and pepper only. In a separate skillet, I sautéed in butter, first, the carrots, then the onions, and, last the apples. With all three ingredients finally in the skillet, I added a bit of salt and pepper and some cinnamon. I finished the pork chops and carrots, onions, and apples at the same time. After I pulled the chops out of the oven, I added the vegetable-apple mix to the stainless steel skillet, letting them soak up any pork chop fat that was in the bottom. I then let all of it rest for at least five minutes.
There you have it. This is an easy meal, no doubt, with few ingredients and a short cooking time. What makes it appealing—and what makes cooking for oneself appealing—is that each ingredient is chosen for its distinct flavor and what that flavor adds to the whole. Using minimal spices assures the flavors will come through. The addition of cinnamon, as the only recognizable spice flavor when all is said and done, pulls out the flavor of the cooked apples just enough so that it is not overwhelmed by the onions. Adding the apples last to the sauté mix is my way of keeping them from turning to mush but still allowing them to absorb some butter and become a little bit crisp.
One of the reasons I enjoy cooking so much is that there are precedents on which to draw, but as a fluid, creative process there are also a lot of opportunities to revise and improvise. As those aspects of cooking that leave little room for maneuver are mastered, such as how long and at what temperature some ingredients should be cooked, the opportunities for creativity expand and improvisation is informed by experience. And the more experienced I become, the more convinced I am that simplicity is the essence good cooking—the ingredients need to stand on their own and not be covered up by marinade, spices, batter, or oils. Of course, while I hold this as truth, I know there are exceptions. Just look at any French cookbook.
Another thing that I believe to be true about cooking is that an ingredient’s best taste is a result of either no cooking or the least amount of cooking as possible. And if this is really a cooking truth, I know, too, that there are probably exceptions. However, the first page of my first cookbook will present this truth and every recipe will be an example of what the truth means in practice. And, yes, you’ll find bone-in pork chops with carrots, onions, and apples in there somewhere.