Eating through the pandemic

In these times of self-isolation, I have turned to comfort food.
Pork with mashed potatoes
Photo by Nikki Hansen
Photographer Nikki Hansen followed Dan Curd's family recipe for smothered pork chops

These are strange times indeed. I never thought I’d see the day when gasoline was less than $1 again, or toilet paper became a luxury item, or I’d fear going to the grocery store — something I normally relish. I continually remind myself that I can’t go out to eat anymore — unless I want carryout, which has grown wearisome.

And that reminds me what a dire situation the hospitality industry is in. I hope I’m wrong, but some of the businesses that barely get by in the best of times won’t survive. I worry about their employees, who won’t get far on a $1,200 check from the federal stimulus. I know we’re all in this together, but many are suffering much more than I am. Unfortunately, when I’m anxious — and I am — I eat, and right now that means I have to cook. Fortunately, my larder is invariably crammed, and on a recent bourbon run to Kentucky, I stocked up. (But I could use some hand sanitizer if anyone wants to share.)

Lately, I’ve posted more food shots on my Instagram than usual — products of my time in the kitchen. Not surprisingly, someone commented, “Aren’t you going to get fat?” Probably, but we’ll deal with that after this crisis ends. At least now I have an excuse for not going to the gym (which I never do) and for taking long walks in a deserted downtown (which I habitually do). After uploading a photo of what I thought to be a rather homely dish, I was surprised to receive requests for the recipe soon after. I found it in a tattered file I’d saved years ago but until now had ignored. Written in my grandmother’s quaint handwriting on a scrap of paper, it was for a Southern classic: smothered pork chops. Seemingly, I’m not the only one seeking comfort in food right now, or solace in what was. I know better times are yet to come. Until then, I’ll cook pork chops.

Smothered Pork Chops
4 thick, bone-in pork chops
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and
crushed thyme
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
4 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
3 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cups chicken stock

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. Season chops liberally with salt, pepper and thyme. Combine flour, garlic powder and cayenne in a shallow dish. Dredge chops in seasoned flour, shaking off any excess. Reserve 3 tablespoons of flour.

3. Heat lard or oil in a large ovenproof pot (with a lid) over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook chops for four to five minutes per side or until nicely browned, then transfer to a plate. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until onions are soft and slightly caramelized, for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with reserved 3 tablespoons flour and cook, stirring, for one to two minutes. Slowly stir in stock and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring, until slightly thickened, about five minutes.

4. Return chops to pot. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Cover pot and put in preheated oven. Cook until fork tender, about two hours. Transfer chops to a plate and place pot over medium-high heat. Reduce sauce, stirring, until it forms a thick gravy. Reduce heat to low and return chops to pot just to reheat. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice.

Dan Curd has written for Madison Magazine for more than 20 years.