When long evenings and fantastic weather come together and the first tell-tale whisps of smoldering embers are wafting through town while an avalanche of dangerously juicy, golden orbs is burying the displays in evey corner of the farmer’s market, Spring is definitely turning into Summer in our parts.
We had an absolutely beautiful Spring this year and, for the first time in years, one with a perfect balance of rain (at night! tee~hee) and sunshine at comfy temperatures. (Maybe the madness is taking a break this year.. or dare I hope… at an end entirely?) Anyways, a couple of years ago, Mother Nature went ahead, grabbed her temperature sledge-hammer and simply smashed a perfectly comfortable Spring to bits by establishing 35°C as a daily average from one day to the next, skipping the get-to-know-eachother transition from 20°C to screaming hot altogether. As I’ve mentioned before, keeping the house at temperatures that might possibly allow sleep at night means taking a break from our explorations and adventures in Tyria by keeping human presence in the apartment and heat-generating PC/screen activities at the lowest possible levels during the hot weeks of the year. So, as you can imagine, having no time whatsoever to ease into that annual break had me in a bit of a foul mood. I was about to be openly grumpy at some poor unsuspecting rooftop-garden BBQ-goers rallying outside the house when, just as I was logging off for the month, I found this – with the apricots, nectarines and peaches I was planning on burying my grumpiness with fresh on my mind:
Comfort food! With my personal fruity twist for extra comfort! And one of my all-time-favorite sides, no less!
I suppose you can guess what happened next~! Since then, my take on this Tyria-inspired dish has proven to be “one of those” dishes that fit into one specific season of the year – or a doorstep phase like the current one, for that matter – and are the perfect way to bring that specific season to the dinner table whenever the need for a sunny reminder arises. Of course, in this case, you’ll have to fall back onto frozen or imported apricots in case you find yourself in the middle of winter when the craving hits. Apart from being both edible sunshine in winter and a yumtastic showcase for the current seasons goodies, this dish is also a perfect fit for any method of cooking you would consider for a batch of chops – pan, oven and BBQ! Talk about versatility~!
In order to keep my instructions at a minimum level of messyness, I’ll skip past the BBQ and Oven Versions after these pointers…
• Whichever way you’re taking your chops, tightly wrap the (thoroughly cleaned) bone with aluminum foil to keep it from browning… and to make flipping them over that much easier~
• Pop the chops onto the indirect heat-area of your BBQ and leave the rest to your pitmaster.
• Generously rub the leeks with a mild olive or vegetable oil before placing them (plus the other ingredients) in an aluminum tray – indirect heat, responsibility off to the pitmaster~
• Apple wood chips. Use them~! The hint of fruity smokyness just dots the I on the whole veal and apricot deal. If you can’t find them in your local supermarket, try the next best home improvement/DIY/hardware store – at least over here they sell anything and everything to do with BBQs, including wood chips in countless variations, in their garden sections.
Oh and just one more thing: Today’s dinner for 4 is a in-one-go kind of deal, so I listed the ingredients for all parts (one by one, of course) before giving you the instructions in one go.
The Veal Chops
4 Veal Chops, about 3-4 cm thick – if you’re not in the mood for veal, go with pork chops. I’ve heard pork goes well with apricots as well~ Oh and either way, make sure the chops are solidly attached to the bone, otherwise it might rip off during a flip and spill the filling all over your pan/coals
8 thin Ribbons of Panchetta or Smoked Bacon – have a look at the instructions and the size of your chops before settling on the 8 ribbons. I usually use bacon I buy at the same butcher’s shop as the chops, so both are always the same size and 8 strips are always enough to wrap up the veal deal. This might turn out very differently for you, however.
25g Clarified Butter or Ghee
2 Sprigs of Thyme – for the pan, pop it in as the heat is rising
2 Sprigs of Rosemary – for the pan, pop it in as the heat is rising
1 Sprig of Sage – for the pan as well
1 Clove of Garlic, bashed – one last aroma-boosting goodie for the pan
The Apricot Filling
150g Dried Apricots, finely chopped
4 Tsp Apricot Jam
4 Tbsp Apricot or Peach Liqueur to deglaze the pan – if you’re not living in an area with an abundance of apricots being grown, Orange Liqueur might be easier to get your hands on. Only use 2-3 Tbsp in that case, since it’s usually stronger than apricot or peach liqueur.
1 Large Brown Onion, finely diced
1 Clove of Garlic, very finely diced
25g Clarified Butter or Ghee
1 Tbsp Maple Syrup
1 Sprig of Thyme, leaves picked
2 Sage Leaves, finely chopped
1-2 Scrapes of Lemon Zest
Sea Salt and Black Pepper to Taste
Opt: 4 fresh Apricots, pitted and quartered for a fruity bite next to the chops and the leeks
The Apricot Glaze
4 Tbsp Low Sugar Apricot Jam or Jelly
2 Tbsp Orange Juice
1 Splash of Lemon Juice
1 Generous Pinch of Hot Chilli Flakes
1 Generous Pinch of Salt
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tsp Thyme Leaves
The remains of the filling
Ok, before we start, consider the bacon’s job for a moment. You can use it to seal the filling into the chop and, by doing so, skip the hassle of dealing with butcher’s string. Or you could use it as just one of the ingredients for the filling, rendering it off before stuffing it in with the rest – this would mean you might have to deal with butcher’s string to keep the filling inside the chop for the entire ride, depending on the chop in front of you and/or your knife skills. Since I don’t have the patience to fuss around with the string, I always go with one of the two ways of using the bacon as a seal – just in case, here are all of your options:
Opt #1: Completely wrap the filled chop, bone and all in bacon strips. You may consider smoothing one ribbon lengthwise along the side of the chop, closing up the pocket you’ve cut in with an extra layer of ooze-protection before weaving the remaining ribbons across. Make sure all the ribbon-ends overlap on the same side of the chop and start the sizzling process with that side facing the heat first to help them “knit” together as the fat renders off.
Opt #2: Use the bacon to seal the filling into the meat pockets directly – lay out a couple of overlapping ribbons in a sort-of blanket just wide enough to slide the ends into the pocket you’ve cut in for the filling without crinkling up. Carefully slide said end of the bacon blanket into the meat pocket and smooth it over the (inside) bottom before shoveling in the filling. Then wriggle the other end, hanging out like a bacon-tongue, over the filling and into the pocket, tucking the filling inwards like a pillow case. Pinch the rims of the pocket closed as tightly as you can (consider a toothpick if you went overboard with the filling). I usually go with this method when I’m using beef bacon or even the occasional slice of parma ham – anything that’s not streaked with fat that would melt and allow the filling to make a break for it after all.
Opt #3: Render off the bacon/panchetta and allow it to sizzle away in the pan until it’s crispy. Keep the fat in the pan for extra flavor on the chops (and skip the ghee, of course) but place the pieces on paper towels to remove any excess fat which would make the filling too runny. Once you’re satisfied with the crunch of the bacon, crumble it into the filling and take it from there.
Speaking of the Filling…
1) Place the apricot jam and the chopped dried apricots in a mixing bowl and set it aside for the time being.
2) Set a wide, heavy-based pan onto medium heat and add the ghee. Once it had enough time to melt and heat up, add the onion and garlic dice.
3) Drizzle them with the maple syrup and allow them to caramelize into golden deliciousness.
4) Fold in the herbs and lemon zest along with a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and allow the fragrant lot to develop their flavors in the heat for 2-3 mins.
5) Deglaze the contents of your pan with the liqueur and, after a generous rub of the pan’s bottom with a rubber spatula to make sure you’re getting every last bit of yum, transfer the lot into the bowl holding the dried apricots and jam.
6) If you’re adding the bacon to your filling, have it join the bowl as well – either way, stir the mixture until everything is well combined and set the bowl aside again to cool off.
Now to fill the chops…
7) Remove the chops from your fridge about 1 hour before it’s time to fry them up.
8) Pat them dry with paper towels and place them on your work surface with the bone facing away from your knife hand, leaving the meaty side freely accessible.
9) Give them a quick check-up and remove any gnarly or bony bits the butcher might have missed.
10) Grab a very sharp knife and very carefully slice a horizontal “pocket” into the thickest part of the side exposed to your knife hand.
11) Make sure you’re not just butterflying the meat – keeping the filling inside would be a logistic nightmare. With a bit of patience, practice and luck, you’ll be able to keep the opening just a bit wider than the blade of your knife, while guiding the – hopefully sharp enough – tip in a sort-of sweep almost through to the bone and along the (inside) rims of the meat, leaving only ~1 cm on all sides. In case this is your first rodeo, don’t worry. There’s bacon and butcher’s string to seal up the occasional hole in the chops.
12) Again, have a look at your bacon-related options before moving on…
13) Whether you’ve chosen to bacon-line the inside of your chops or not, fill up the meat pockets with just enough of your apricot mixture for the chops to plump up – just make sure the edges of your cut are actually closing and sealing the filling in without putting up much of a fight. Don’t worry if you’re looking at leftovers, they’ll have a part in the dish either way~
14) Generously season the chops’ outsides with salt and pepper before tieing them up with bacon or butcher’s string as I’ve mentioned above.
15) Only one thing left to do before it’s time to fire up the pan or the coals: Place all of the ingredients for the glaze in a small mixing bowl and have at it with a spoon until everything is well combined.
Turn up the heat and…
16) Brush a cast-iron pan or griddle with a hint of heat resistant oil and fire it up on medium-high heat.
17) Add the herby aromatics as the pan is heating up.
18) Sizzle the chops for 3-4 mins per side until the bacon has crsiped up a bit.
19) Turn the heat to low, generously brush the chops with the glaze on both sides and pop on a lid – 5 more mins per side and you’re golden~
20) These last 10 mins – plus a couple more to allow the meat to R&R before the gig – are the perfect time to take care of today’s side dish~
The Roasted Leeks with Hazelnuts
4-8 Leeks, white parts only, sliced into 4-5 cm long pieces
4 Cloves of Garlic, thinly sliced
2 Sprigs of Thyme, leaves picked
1 Sprig of Rosemary, needles picked and finely chopped
1 Strip of Lemon Peel
1 Tbsp Clarified Butter
1 Tsp Walnut Oil
100ml White Port
50g Hazelnuts, crushed and lightly toasted – with a bit of luck, you’ll find these, ready roasted, in the baking section of your supermarket
A generous Pinch each of Sea Salt, Pepper and Chilli Flakes to taste
Now this one’s a side that fits basically any meaty & fruity meaty dish I know, and its leftovers are a wonderful addition to any lunchbox the following day. In connection with today’s apricot chops I would advise you to use the chop-pan and the yumtastic juices inside to finish off the leeks in. If you’re working on a lunchboxable batch however – or are unsure about the time-management involved – use a fresh pan to keep the flavors “clean” for whatever goes in there along with the leeks and start the process once the chops have made their way into their own pan.
1) Place a wide and heavy-based pan on medium heat, brush the inside with half of the ghee/clarified butter, throw in the garlic and pop on a lid.
2) As the heat is rising, rub the leeks with the walnut oil – to make the seasoning stick – and season them with salt, pepper and a couple of chilli flakes.
3) Place the leeks in your pan and, while turning them over little by little on a regular basis, keep them in the heat until they’ve developed a deliciously golden tan all around. 5-6 mins should do the trick.
4) Once they’re there, pop in the lemon peel, rosemary needles, thyme leaves, another pinch of chilli flakes and the remaining butter.
5) As soon as the recently added ghee has melted, deglaze the lot with the port and make sure to rub every last bit of yum sticking to the bottom of the pan loose with the help of a rubber spatula.
6) Turn the heat to full speed ahead for a moment to bring the contents of your pan up to a boil.
7) As soon as the liquids are merrily bubbling away around your leeks, turn the heat back to medium, close the lid halfway and allow the leeks to simmer in the self-reducing sauce for roundabout 10 mins.
8) Time for a quick bite-test: the leeks are perfect once they’re tender and deliciously biteable yet retain their structure as you attack them with a knife and fork. If the inside-leaves threaten to shoot out of the tube while you try to stick them with your fork or your test-bite does a great squeaky toy impression, keep them in for a bit longer.
9) Have a look at the sauce-level in your pan as well while you’re at it. If there’s still too much liquid sloshing around inside, take the lid off entirely, turn the heat up a notch and reduce the sauce down further for 3-5 mins. Take the leeks out before doing that if they’ve matched your taste ahead of the sauce.
10) Once both components tickle your tastebuds in all the right places, fold in the nuts, retrieve your apricot-stuffed chops and plate up~!