Sicilian legacy that's tasty: Forget Mafia and horse heads, try pork chops

Friday, 23 July 1999

Think of pork chops and you’ll either curl up your nose in disgust because of cultural sensitivities or you will curl up your nose in disgust because pork chops are boring.

If you’re in the cultural sensitivity category, stay with me — we can discuss alternatives. If you’re in the “pork chops are boring” category, let me make you an offer you cannot refuse.

The Sicilians gave us the Mafia and gave horses a bad reputation. Less well known is that the Sicilians also make good food that is entirely unlike that served on the Italian mainland. And among the basics you will find in a Sicilian kitchen is marsala wine.

Marsala is a sweet dessert-type wine. Mixed with egg-white, marsala wine is the essential component of the dessert tiramisu. (Don’t believe any restaurant that tries to persuade you that Amaretto or brandy should be used instead.)

For this recipe, you will need to get some marsala as well as olive oil. Imported marsala wine is expensive, but the local variety is quite cheap and should be available at any of the better bottle stores. Not so with olive oil where the local variety is just not up to scratch in price/performance terms. The Spaniards and the Portuguese make extra virgin olive oil that’s as good as that which comes out of Italy and is normally cheaper.

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Rinse some pork chops and dab dry with paper towel. (If the meat is damp, it will cook tough.) Crush a few black peppercorns and press into the sides of the meat. Heat enough olive oil to barely coat the bottom of a frying pan and fry two cloves of garlic until brown. Remove the garlic, and flash fry the chops, flipping frequently with a wooden spoon, keeping the oil as hot as possible. (Never use a fork — you want those juices to stay inside the meat.)

When chops are nearly done (after about five minutes) toss in a half-cup of marsala, keep stirring and flipping. When liquid has reduced by half, toss in a half-cup of mushrooms. Carry sizzling pan through to the table and serve with a flourish.

Chicken breasts or veal cutlets may be substituted for the pork chops.