Pork Chops with Orange & Fennel Salad

IMG_2093I usually try to stick to looking on the bright side of winter.  Admittedly, this can be difficult on days when you don’t see the sun at all.  By the second or third day of endless overcast skies, my mood definitely shifts into low gear!  The sky — an infinite sea of gray with no beginning nor end — gives no clues as to whether it is morning or afternoon.

You start to wonder if your memories of sun — gold dripping off emerald bedecked trees in endless splendor surrounded by warmth and light — might’ve been some over-romanticized fantasy of yours, a pathetic image you conjured up some time after you were born into this world of dark and gray.   Maybe spring doesn’t exist.  Maybe it’s something that dangles in front of you — always just out of your reach — as you scramble over the ice-covered pavement day after day, your arms reaching out for balance but also grasping for spring and the promise of sunlight.  Sigh.

When the sky looks like an elephant’s backside for too long, what you need is a dash of color.  If Mother Nature isn’t cooperating, why not invite her to dinner to help things along?


Today’s recipe was taken from the pages of Eating Well Magazine.  I have to admit that I read the recipe and skipped over it several times before finally giving it a try.  There’s just something about the taste combination — pork, fennel, oranges, and arugula — that seems elevated or risky.  I guess that’s one of the things that I enjoy best about cooking — the chance to play matchmaker, chemist, or alchemist, as the case may be — bringing together seemingly disparate tastes and swishing them around until they become something they absolutely could not have become if kept separate.

Pork chops are certainly no stranger to most dinner tables.  Here it’s mainly important that you buy good quality, IMG_2087loin chops about 1/2-inch thick, from humanely raised pork.  I had to ask the butcher to cut mine specially since all that was in the case was either too thick or too thin.  Don’t be afraid to ask for special cuts!  Unless your chops are especially fatty (and they shouldn’t be if they’re loin chops), I’d recommend leaving the thin strip of fat intact so that the chops remain moist.  Most of the fat will render and come away from the meat, anyway, during the cooking process.

IMG_2079Fennel is such an interesting ingredient and brings with it such a complex taste I can’t believe I tried it only about four years ago.  I had been familiar with fennel seeds, of course, which have a similar taste, but a fennel bulb was like an alien life form in my kitchen!  I had no idea what to do with it or what to expect from it.

Handling fennel is very easy.  You can slice away the green stalks (fronds) and either discard them or put them in your freezer to use in homemade stocks or stews.  Next, you merely slice the bulb in half, cut out the triangle-shaped core from both halves, then proceed to slice, chop, or dice the bulb as directed.
Fennel comes from an interesting family of plants — including celery, carrots, dill and even Queen Anne’s Lace (a favorite flower of mine).  They really are fascinating little plants.  A fennel bulb — while it may look a little like an onion — has a taste that’s somewhere in the anise/licorice category, though I hesitate to associate it with licorice since I hate licorice but I love fennel.  Also unlike onions, fennel maintains some of its crispness even after sautéeing.  So, if a recipe asks you to slice thinly, be sure to follow the directions otherwise you’ll have a lot of chewing to do!

Oranges are probably not a starring role in your dinner plans — at least not in the entrée.  A certain friend of mine is vehemently opposed to the mixing of meat and fruit to the point that she makes gagging sounds at the very suggestion of the two meeting on the same plate.  In my opinion — when paired with the right tastes and IMG_2082ingredients — fruit and meat really do go together quite nicely.  Here, you may learn a new fruit slicing technique since the recipe requires you to remove the skin, pith, and tough membranes from the orange, leaving only the fleshy segments behind.  For me, the challenge was not putting all of the slices directly into my mouth once they were freed from the orange!  Though it seems a painstaking step, removing the tough membranes makes the entire dish more palatable.  Plus, it’s great training for making super fruit salads later!

IMG_2083I don’t usually like arugula.  It’s innocent enough in appearance, but it has a bitter taste that smacks you right in the mouth.  The only times I’ve really enjoyed it is when it has been paired with a very strong, citrusy vinaigrette.  That’s why I knew I would enjoy the arugula in this recipe — all of the orange activity!  Cutting down on the bitterness even further, this recipe involves wilting the arugula.  That’s right.  Show those bitter greens who’s boss!

Pork Chops with Orange & Fennel Salad
Adapted from Eating Well Magazine
Serves 4

    3 navel oranges
    1 teaspoon lemon juice
    1/2 teaspoon sugar
    1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
    4 4-ounce boneless pork chops, 1/2 inch thick
    2 teaspoons fennel seeds, roughly chopped or coarsely ground
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
    1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    1 large fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
    1/2 cup chopped shallot
    3 cups arugula

    Using a sharp knife, remove the skin and white pith from oranges.  I find this is easiest if you first remove a smallish slice from the top and bottom.  Try to leave as much orange behind as possible as you carve away the skin and pith.  Working over a bowl, cut the segments from their surrounding membranes by cutting into the orange just before and after each segment begins. Squeeze remaining juice from the membranes into the bowl before discarding. Transfer the segments with a slotted spoon to another bowl. Whisk lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch and 1/4 teaspoon salt into the bowl with the orange juice. Set aside.

    Combine the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, black pepper, and the fennel seeds in a small bowl. Season pork chops on both sides with the fennel seed mixture. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the chops and cook until browned and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

    Add sliced fennel and shallot to the pan and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add arugula and cook, stirring, until it begins to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes more. Stir in the reserved orange segments, then transfer the contents of the pan to a platter.

    Add the reserved orange juice mixture and any accumulated juices from the pork chops to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Serve the pork chops on the fennel salad, drizzled with the pan sauce.

This recipe has the appearance of a fancy, hoity-toity entrée from one of those restaurants where the appetizers cost as much as a pair of designer shoes, but looks are thankfully deceiving!  Pork chops are relatively cheap and all of the other ingredients are either pantry staples or perfectly in season right now in the dead of winter (in season… but not local, alas).  Plus, the cheery colors and bright flavors are just what the doctor ordered when you’re stuck right in the middle of winter’s doldrums.  The doctor may’ve also ordered it because one serving contains 140% of your daily recommended value of vitamin C.  And you didn’t even have to pop a pill or slurp a vile, bubbling liquid to get it!  One bite of this and you’ll believe in spring again!


~ by Jason on February 1, 2011.

4 Responses to “Pork Chops with Orange & Fennel Salad”

  1. This looks so yummy! I have never had even half these ingredients in my house. Guess I will have to wait until I come to Chicago and let you cook this for me, you are such a good cook, can’t imagine cooking all the things you do. Guess I’m too lazy.

    • You’re not lazy at all. If I had half the to-do list you have, you’d better believe dinner would be grilled cheese and a bowl of tomato soup more frequently! (Homemade tomato soup, of course!)

  2. I love fennel, my favorite way is with apples and onions 🙂

    • Fennel is pretty cool. It’s only been a few years since I first tried it, admittedly. I think some of the descriptions of its taste were a bit off-putting — especially for someone who doesn’t really like licorice or anise.

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