Like most Chinese, I grew up on a diet that included pork prepared in a variety of ways; there was minced and lean pork with noodles, pork meatballs in porridge, pork ribs simmered in herbal soups, steamed with tofu, braised in soya sauce…and so on. While I loved these interpretations of the meat, there was only one that really got my heart – Deep Fried Pork Chops. Yup, you read that right.
At this point (and after my professed love for mind-blowingly rich, heart-stopping creations), you’re probably thinking that I’m an extreme nutter who lives for the calories. Occasionally. Maybe. But come on, don’t tell me that you can decline a dish that has ‘Deep Fried’ in its name without skipping a beat?
Appogiatura’s post got me thinking about the chops of my childhood, those breaded pieces of meat that challenged my limits of self-restraint like no other. It was definitely a character-building exercise each time my grandmother whipped these up for dinner, alongside dollops of her tomato sauce that I’d pile on my rice. The combination of sweet red onions, ketchup (“Ketchup!!” you say) and diced tomatoes perfectly rounded out the crisp textures of the meat with each spoonful of rice.
Feeling somewhat nostalgic and adventurous about cooking from memory, I made this for dinner the other day using panko crumbs and was pretty happy with the result. It was as if I had made my grandmother’s version of Tonkatsu, but with tomato sauce instead of Japanese curry. Of course, panko crumbs weren’t as common (and therefore, affordable) in those days as they are now, so bread crumbs were, quite literally, made from slices of bread that had been left out in the sun for a day or two, before being pounded to fine bits in a pestle and mortar. These crumbs produced a crust that was a little less crunchy than their Panko cousins, however as the slices of meat were half as thick as the chops sold in the US, this resulted in crisp slices of breaded pork cut into small morsels that would vanish from the table if you weren’t quick enough.
The sauce’s flavor relies in large part on the ketchup, used to compensate for the tartness of the tomatoes that you find in Singapore. I know it sounds weird to use bottled ketchup in a tomato sauce, but trust me, regardless of the ketchup you use (manufactured or home-made), this is what will bring your sauce to life. Think of it as an elaborated variant of the bottled version.
Pork Chops & Tomato Sauce
For a cost-effective option, you could make your own bread crumbs by toasting a couple of slices of white or whole wheat bread in the oven until completely brown and crisp, then blitzing them in a food processor. You’d need about 6-8 slices to produce enough crumbs for the amount of meat stated below, and should use thin-cut chops (no more than half-inch thick). This recipe can also be adapted for boneless and skinless chicken breasts, in which you’d omit the baking part entirely.
1.5 lbs boneless pork chops (about 4 pieces)
1 cup panko crumbs
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
4 tomatoes on the vine, diced
1 medium red onion, halved crosswise and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup ketchup, preferably home-made or organic
1/2 to 3/4 cups water
Pre-heat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C.
Tenderize the chops with a meat pounder and heat the oil in a deep saucepan until it reaches 300 F/ 150 C. Dip each chop first into the egg, then the crumbs, and slip it into the pan. Depending on the size of your pan, you could cook two pieces at a time but just be sure not to crowd the surface too much. Leave each piece to cook for approximately 1-2 minutes on each side or until the crust turns a light shade of brown, then remove and drain on paper towels.
Once all the pieces are done, line them in a single layer on a baking tray and slip them into the oven for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare your sauce. In a saucepan (or wok), heat the 2 tablespoons of oil on high heat and add the garlic, about 1 minute. Once it starts to brown, add the onions and leave to sweat for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until they turn translucent. Add the tomatoes, and after 2 minutes, add the ketchup and water, bring the liquid to a boil then lower to a simmer for 6 minutes. Check the consistency of the sauce – add more water if it’s thick like a roux; leave to simmer a little longer if it resembles a soup.
To serve, slice the chops into 1-inch strips, smother with sauce and consume with white (or brown) rice.