Spiced Pork Chops with Cucumber Pico de Gallo
Lately I have to coach myself through the meat department of my local grocery store. Take a deep breath, I tell myself. Stop scowling. Still deeply entrenched in the fat-phobic '90s, the pale, quick-cooking lean cuts of beef and pork outnumber the juicier, ruddier braising cuts three to one. And now they’ve even phased out my preferred 80/20 grind of hamburger, replacing it with ruby packs of lean 85/15 and leaner-yet 90/10. I lean on the bell, summoning the manager to explain to me why they’ve drained all the fat and flavor from the display case—phrased in a much nicer way, of course. “These days, people want lean meat,” he says with a blinking, open expression. He tells me about “heart-healthy” and “saturated fat” in simple terms, with the bottomless patience of a kindergarten teacher. In my small, admittedly food-obsessed social circle, small portions of richer, marbled meat edged out the large, plate-spanning lean ones about five years ago, but I feel suddenly out of sync—as if I’ve been transported 20 years into the past, when we spread margarine on our toast and trimmed all the fat off our steaks.So I pick up the pack of pork chops, which have been cut thin enough to hold an edge, and reconsider them. Cooking a single mammoth fatty chop and slicing it into juicy, pale-pink tranches to serve three people still seems more logical to me than overcooking one thin chop per person. I may not be wrong, but being right is a lonely game. I drop them into my cart. After all, it’s just a Wednesday night dinner, I tell myself. Let’s not be so cranky.On my drive home I think about how I’ll convert the thin chops’ deficits into advantages. Thin chops are quick to cook, which will give me time to make some interesting sides. They have a lot of surface area. If I blanket them with spices, char them hard on a hot grill pan, and top them with with a fiery cilantro-and-lime-loaded cucumber and Vidalia onion salsa—everything I love to use to garnish a taco—each chop will be one giant, plate-filling, griddle-kissed burnt end. In the kitchen, I spring into action, assembling the cucumber pico de gallo, then rubbing the chops with the mixture of spices I use to make homemade chorizo—paprika, garlic powder, a jolt of warm allspice—and throwing them on the hot grill. They smoke immediately, profusely, but I don’t give them any relief. I keep going until their tops dome, their undersides turn warning-sign dark, and I see the doneness creeping up the sides. I flip them over and cook the second side just long enough to find a platter to hold them, then whisk them off the grill.I sit down to the pork chop and zesty, fresh cucumber salsa sprawling across my plate and silently apologize to the meat manager for my earlier bad behavior. Next time, I’ll tell him that I’m a convert.