Wide array of peppers to spice every kind of meal


Entertaining: Cooks should take advantage of the edible heat found in all the local markets nowadays.

Sunday Gourmet

April 23, 2000|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

As a youngster growing up in the South, I rarely saw my mother use chili peppers when she cooked. She always added a little chili powder to her spaghetti sauce for extra piquancy, and she liked to stuff green bell peppers with a meat, rice and onion mixture before napping them with tomato sauce and baking them, but that was the extent of her chili repertoire. She really didn't have the opportunity to experiment more because there weren't many varieties of peppers available in the markets.

Today, the marketplace is filled with an array of peppers. Hot or mild, fresh or dried, there is a type for every palate. In my local store, I can choose fiery habaneros, scotch bonnets, poblanos, jalapenos and serranos. And, among the dried offerings, there are anchos and chipotles. Such chilies have been the source of inspiration for many dishes I have created and used for entertaining over the past few years.

A favorite recipe of mine is for grilled sirloin steaks with banana chili pepper butter. Another which I particularly like is for rib-eye steaks with chipotle sauce.

Recently I created a dish -- Pork Chops in Tomato-Ancho Chili Sauce -- which I served to good friends for supper one evening. This Southwestern-style main course was delicious with saffron-scented rice and a spinach and avocado salad. Fresh fruit made an appropriate dessert.

Pork Chops in Tomato-Ancho Chili Sauce

Serves 6

5 ancho chilies (1 3/4 to 2 ounces, see note)

salt, freshly ground black pepper

6 center-cut boneless pork chops (about 6 ounces each), trimmed of all excess fat

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

1 large egg, lightly beaten

3 to 4 tablespoons oil

4 cups low-sodium chicken stock

2 (28-ounce) cans Italian-style tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon dried oregano

6 sprigs fresh oregano, optional

Place chilies in small bowl and cover with 3/4 cup boiling water. Let stand 15 minutes until chilies are soft. Drain well. Wearing rubber gloves, slit chilies and scrape out and discard seeds. Coarsely chop chilies and set aside.

Salt and pepper pork chops generously on both sides. Spread flour on dinner plate and cornmeal on another. Place egg in shallow bowl. Dredge each chop in flour, then dip in egg and finally dredge in cornmeal.

Heat oil in large heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, arrange chops in single layer in skillet and saute until golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and saute until golden on other side, 3 to 4 minutes more. Add stock, tomatoes, garlic, dried oregano, 1 teaspoon salt and reserved ancho chilies. Bring mixture to simmer. Lower heat and cook, covered, until pork chops are tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove lid.

If sauce is too thin, cook, uncovered, few minutes to thicken slightly. Taste and season sauce with salt and pepper as needed.

Arrange chops on serving platter. Ladle sauce over top. Garnish with sprigs of fresh oregano.

Note: Ancho chilies are dried poblano chilies. They are a deep rust brown and have a smoky, mild taste. They are available at some grocery stores and in specialty food shops. Packages of two to three chilies generally weigh about 1 1/4 ounces.

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