How I unleashed my inner Han Solo in the kitchen to get my pork chop game right before the decade ended

The new year's eve menu at our place: Pork sausage Kolkata Hakka noodles, double cooked pork chops in Thai chilli paste, honey and pepper, prawns in black bean chilli paste

Author's note: Experts say that it is 2021 and not 2020 that will be the start of the new decade. Which means that we are still in the old decade. Assuming that this is indeed so, I wonder why we said 2000 was the start of new century. In any case, if you do the math you will see that the headline still holds.

New city. New life. New friends. New beginnings.

In my early years in Mumbai I would look to head out  to new year's eve parties with my office colleagues on 31st December night. Media bashes at times, once at the US Club too.

I would scour the newspapers in the early years of our marriage to find some place for K and me to go and party at on new year's eve. This was often our only indulgence in those rather cash strapped years. We went to Starter & More, Marine Plaza, Zenzi, China Gate, the Asian place at NCPA whose name I do no remember, back then for the unlimited drink and food dos. I was the driving force behind these outings. It was my attempt to make up for all those years that I had spent new year's eve in front of the telly while growing up in Kolkata. We would not be allowed out at night back then, even when I was in college and later B School.

In recent years though, K and I have spent our new year eves at home. Usually with a friend or two over. Growing old perhaps. Or a reflection of the sort of people we are today. 'Homebodies,' to use a market research segmentation term.

Our building cat, whom I call Maharani as she's really noble
& dignified, dropped in for the first time on 1st Jan evening

We did not have any specific plans to bring in the new year this time around. Things changed at about 10.30 am on the 31st of December when I made our new year's eve plans and marinated them too. Confused?! Let me explain.

We had invited our friend Shaswati over this time, but had not decided on what to do for dinner till 31st morning as the plans were a bit fluid. I suddenly got the idea of making pork chops and called Jude's Cold Storage at Bandra's Pali Naka, from where we buy our meats, to check if they had some. The lady who picked up the phone said they did have chops and I requested her to send some along with some medium sized prawns and pork sausages too. A plan had began to form in my head.

The irrepressible Dr Kurush Dalal in action on
31st night

Then I disconnected the phone and called our friend Dr Kurush Dalal on the spur of the moment.

"Kurush, are you guys free tonight? I am calling for some pork chops and will make them. Care to come over?"

"Wait, let me check," he said and then I heard him yell out, "Rhea (his wife) do we have plans tonight, Kalyan has got pork chops and has called us over."

Then back on the phone to me, "Yes, we have plans. We are visiting our friend Kalyan in Bandra (they live at Kharghar) who has called for pork chops," he said before signing off after a dramatic pause. That is Kurush for you.

When pork chops made a comeback in the Finely Chopped Kitchen 

Pork chops from Jude's after they were thawed

I had not made pork at home in recent years. Primarily because I was trying to cut down my consumption of pork due to cholesterol worries and thought that limiting it to meals outside would help me cut down on the amount consumed. I would earlier make it for house parties though the pork (including chops) would never turn out to be as tender as some of the pork one would have outside. That was way back in the early 2010s!

I have had some fabulous pork this year at restaurants such as Indigo Deli in Bandra, ITC Pan Asian in Mumbai and Kolkata, at Frank's Restaurant at Jamshedpur, Samvaad the tribal conclave at Jamshedpur, the north eastern section of the buffet at the ITC Royal Bengal's Grand Market Pavilion and most recently at the toddy shop at Chitoor in Kochi.

The one thing that was constant about all the pork dishes that I mentioned above is that they were all fruits of slow and patient cooking, multi-staged cooking at times, tender love and care too. These were the values that I hoped to emulate while making the chops on new year's eve. This was my only 'recipe.'

Pork chops marinated in Thai chilli paste from Seefah, honey, white pepper, salt, soya sauce

The pork chops from Jude's turned out to be promisingly supple once thawed. The thick layer of fat looked bewitching.

I decided to marinate the pork in the Thai chilli paste that they had sent me from Seefah, the Thai and Japanese restaurant at Bandra. Its flavour offers a nice balance of chilli heat and sweetness. I added table salt, some honey and white pepper to the pork too. The rest of the plan was to make prawns in a black bean chilli oil paste at night and a sausage Kolkata Hakka noodles with soy and chilli sauce along with the chops. Which is why I used a contrasting sweeter marinade for the pork.

I drizzled a bit of soy sauce on it and let the marinated pork rest for a couple of hours. I also greased the bottom of the pan with some avocado oil and placed sliced onions on it and the pork chops on that so that it did not stick to the tray. A trick that I had learnt from chef Glyston when I had once interviewed him about the roast pork that he had done for Christmas at the Smokehouse Deli in Bandra.

Here's how I cooked the pork and I must admit that I was a bit circumspect during the process as I had never cooked it like this before.

Unleashing my inner Han Solo

I started by roasting/ baking the pork in the oven.  I have heard restaurant chefs talks about roasting pork for 5 hours and more. How long should I try, I wondered. The most that I had tried in the in the past was about 45 min to an hour. Should I push it more? Would I get tender pork chops at the end if I did so? Or would this lead to disaster, with our guests having to settle with just the noodles and the prawns?

I preheated the oven for 10 min at 200 C. Then I put in the marinated pork in a glass baking tray with the top covered with baking foil. I kept the tray covered with the foil to ensure that the pork did not dry up and that it soaked in all the juices instead. I peeped in through the glass door of the oven in between and saw the sauces and fat were bubbling around the meat. I kept it in for 1 hour at 200 C.

After 1 hour at 200 C in the oven

I took the tray out after an hour. Using oven mitts on both hands. I took off the foil. Gently turned the chops over. I poked the meat and the fat with a fork and saw that it was beginning to get tender. I scooped up some of the sauces from the tray and poured it on the chops from the top, covered the tray again and put it in. This time for 30 min at 150 C. I kept the oven door shut while the tray was outside so that it would stay warm.

After another 30 min at 150 C

I took out the tray again after 30 min, took off the foil cover. Turned the chops around. Again put some of the sauces from the bottom on the chops and put the tray back in to the oven. This time without the foil. I was going for the kill this time.

The last round for the pork in the oven was for 40 min at 150 C. A total of 2 hours and 10 min. Much longer than any pork that I had cooked before in the oven before this.

After another 40 min at 150 C with no cover this time. 2.10 hours in total

The result? The meat looked much darker than it did at the start. Caramelised you could say. The sauce had almost dried up, as had the lard. I poked the meat with a fork. It was as tender as a dream. I had pushed our old oven to where it had never gone before and it had done me proud. Do indulge me if I made myself sound like Han Solo. I am rather kicked by how the pork chops turned out.  This was not the end of the story though.

Where's the party as Madonna asked

Banu's chicken shammi straight off the pan

The final cooking of the chops was at 11 am. After we had Banu's shammi kebabs, which Kurush particularly loves, at the start of the evening. This time (unlike the last dinner) she was back in form and made them properly... and then told us that she is going on a 8 day leave.

K fried sausages and used a bit of the lard from the chops to grease the pan and they turned out to be lovely.

We later offered some toasted sourdough from La Folie with the truffle mustard that my friend Kunal Dhume from Melbourne had given when we last met, before it was time to get the mains ready.

Sausages fried by K

I went to the kitchen at 11 am to put the dinner in place before midnight. I felt very Zen. Everything fell in the place.

The set on chops, which had rested for 3 hours by then first. I put them in a pan with some of the sauce and lard from the tray in it and cooked the pork for one last time. 

The story that had started at 1030 am had finally come to an end. A rather glorious one as we found out soon.

I then heated some oil in a wok. Put in the prawns. The Laoganma black bean chilli oil paste that good old Kunal had given me. Salt. Some chopped bell peppers and spring onions and split chillies, a light stir and the prawns were done in a few minutes.

Prawns in Laoganma black bean chilli oil

After the prawns were on their way, I heated oil in another wok. Added finely chopped ginger and garlic, sausages next, then a huge pile of boiled noodles, chilli and soy sauce, salt, white pepper, vegetables, mixed them and some pre-scrambled egg and tossed it. I was a bit wary of the huge quantity, but the noodles turned out well at the end despite the wok being overcrowded. The prawns stayed nice and juicy.

Pork sausage Kolkata Hakka noodles

The chops, which brought his party together to start with, did not let me down. It was by miles the best pork dish that I have ever cooked. I was thrilled when Rhea, who once on a whim had started a Facebook group called Porkaholics and which has become rather huge now, finished the last chop. That was validation enough.

Double cooked pork chops. Oven to pan to table.

I get high with a little help from my friends as the Beatles said

I had taken out the steak knives ,that our dear Jamshed uncle had given us a few years back, for the dinner. He would have been happy to see them inaugurated on such a happy occasion. By people he was so fond of.

Except that the chops turned out to be so tender that we did not really need those sharp knives!

With Shaswati (black), Rhea (white and blue) & Kurush (pink) who helped make our new year's eve special

And for dessert we had one of Rhea's famous Christmas puddings with brandy butter. Made using the recipe her mother in law had given her. The late Dr Katy Dalal. And a dark chocolate cake that Shaswati had got.

I had bought Le 15 dark chocolate and sea salt macarons for K and she had one before the party and kept the rest for the first. We are like that only. When it comes to these macarons.

Oh, what was I doing at midnight you ask? As we stepped into 2020. I was still eating. About to wolf down the last bit of pork fat. That's as good a start as any to the year one can say.

Here's wishing you and yours a happy 2020.

Happy new year from K & me

Talking of 'help from my friends' as the Beatles song goes, here's a funny thing. Last night I looked up an old blog post of mine from when I had made pork chops in 2011 at the start of the last decade for friends. I was not very happy with the results that time and had asked my friend Gia Claudette Fernandes, who is a pork sorceress chef, for tips. Among other things, she advised me to use to a flat tray the next time and large chops and not chopped ones as I had the last time. Turned out that I did so this time even though I did not remember this incident while cooking. Her advice had registered in my subconscious I guess!

Here is the pork chop post from the last time and here is my most recent post where I shared Gia's Goan fish curry recipe.

PS: In the spirit of zero waste, the next day for lunch I refreshed the leftover noodles in a pan using a bit of the leftover lard from the chops and put in the leftover prawns which were still not rubbery. I even added the last of the soy sauce and chillies left from the previous night!

PPS: Preceded by breakfast at Candies of course. A plan that K and I had made the previous evening. We had the softest chicken sandwiches in the world which you get there. Sylvia and the rest of the staff was there to welcome us with bright smiles and she got me a pack of chips too and we followed this with cappuccinos.

PPS: For dinner we had gone to the home of our friends the Grovers for a Satyanarayan puja. We had some chaat there and headed back home with the vegetarian biryani and the mathi malai matar and a huge motichoor laddoo that they had packed for us. The year could not have got off to a better start. Surrounded by our dear friends and great food.

More from new year's eve:

Wait. You have to pose first

Two minutes after midnight. I was still eating!
Still eating after midnight. The Bengali Bhai bon

Remains of the day
Also read. Pork dishes referred to in this post:
Indigo Deli, Bandra
Samvaad conclave lunch
Frank's Jamshedpur
ITC Royal Bengal North Easter food: