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It was really hard to choose just one recipe to share from Eric Kim’s new book Korean American: Food That Tastes Like Home. There are so many simple, inventive meals that artfully combine the traditional Korean flavors with which Eric grew up at home and the tasty American food that he also grew up with and calls his own. If the sound of this appeals even a little, we promise his book is worth a look.
In the meantime — or maybe as a test run — we thought that these Salt-and-Pepper Pork Chops with Vinegared Scallions struck just the right chord for family cooks. Picky kids can eat these super tasty, very simple pork chops plain, slightly adventurous eaters can add the scallions, and everyone else can enjoy everything with Eric’s tasty dipping sauce. With rice on the side, it’s the ultimate deconstruct-able meal.
“I think my body likes it when I eat pork,” Jean says every time we have pork for dinner. Her affinity for pork—especially the fatty cuts from the ribs, belly, and shoulder—underpins a general theory I have regarding her past life as a tiger (her Korean zodiac sign). But the thing is, my mother never cooked pork chops growing up, which I’ve always found interesting considering pork features in so much of her daily cooking, and indeed in Korean cuisine.
Years later, in high school, I found that pork chops could be total lifesavers when I needed a quick, lean protein for dinner, not to mention they happened to be surprisingly affordable, especially the thin ones. As I fried them for myself after school, Jean would come home from work and take bites out of any leftovers, which would be sitting on the kitchen counter covered in plastic wrap. Because of this, for Jean, pork chops have always seemed American. This is funny because to me they taste Korean. When seasoned simply with salt and pepper, they remind me of samgyeopsal, or grilled pork belly, the kind you’d eat at a Korean barbecue restaurant, just from a different life and with less fat (not that there’s anything wrong with a little lard).
I love this preparation on thick, bone-in chops, too, as the simple palate lets you taste the pork as it is: rich, meaty, and just a touch gamey(but in the best way). It’ll make you go: Oh, that’s what pork tastes like. For an even cook, these pork chops get pan-fried for a couple of minutes per side, then finished in the oven. A simple dipping sauce of sesame oil, salt, pepper, and brown sugar adds a third element, nuttiness, and echoes the samgyeopsal inspiration. The scallions here are a nod to pa muchim,that wonderful gochugaru-slicked scallion salad that often accompanies samgyeopsal to cut the richness of the meat with its sharp allium power.
It was really hard to choose just one recipe to share from Eric Kim’s book Korean American: Food That Tastes Like Home after our conversation with him. We chose these pork chops because they strike just the right chord for family cooks. Picky kids can eat the pork chops plain, slightly adventurous eaters can add the scallions, and everyone else can enjoy everything with Eric’s tasty dipping sauce. With rice on the side, it’s the ultimate deconstruct-able meal.
For the pork chops:
2 teaspoons kosher salt 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar 2 bone-in pork chops, 1 inch thick (about 10 ounces each) 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
For the vinegared scallions:
4 scallions, cut into 3-inch segments, then thinly sliced lengthwise into strips 1 tablespoon rice vinegar 1 tablespoon gochugaru Pinch of dark brown sugar Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper Dark brown sugar 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil Cooked white rice for serving
Prepare the pork chops: In a small bowl, stir together the salt, pepper, and brown sugar. Sprinkle the rub generously on both sides of the pork chops and let them dry-brine at room temperature for 30 minutes or up to 1 hour (any longer and you’ll end up with deli meat).
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
When ready to cook, blot both sides of the pork chops with a paper towel (removing the moisture will help you get a nicely browned crust) and smear the oil on both sides of each pork chop with your hand
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat until very, very hot (you might see a wisp of smoke). Sear the pork chops until nicely browned, 2 minutes on the first side, then repeat on the second side, just 1 minute this time
Transfer the pan to the oven and roast until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 145°F, 8 to 10 minutes (with a thick pork chop, to get an accurate read, you’ll need to use tongs to hold the chop and then carefully insert the thermometer laterally from the side). Remove the pan from the oven and set the pork chops aside on two serving plates to rest while you prepare the scallion salad and dipping sauce.
Make the vinegared scallions: In a medium bowl, toss together the scallions, vinegar, gochugaru, and brown sugar. Season generously with salt and pepper and scatter messily over the pork chop
To finish: Make the dipping sauce by adding a pinch each of salt, pepper, and brown sugar to two small dishes. Add 1 tablespoon sesame oil to each dish and stir until the sugar dissolve
Serve each scallion-bedecked pork chop alongside a mound of white rice and the dipping sauce on the side (see Note).
For the perfect bite, what I like to do is carve the meat with a fork and knife and drag each piece through the dipping sauce before eating with some of the scallions. Then, for relief, I chase that nutty, salty, sour, and sweet flavor bomb with a bite of white rice.