I have a love/love relationship with balsamic vinegar. I can’t get enough of it. Fruity, tangy, and sweet, it is a perfect accompaniment to numerous types of food. If you’ve only tried it with bread at your local Italian restaurant, I’d encourage you to give it a try on pork, chicken, and even ice cream.
Like wine, the taste and quality of balsamic vinegars depends on the source of the ingredients and the process used to transform them into a vinegar. Balsamic vinegar (aceto balsamico tradizionale) starts its life as white grapes, which are pressed and the resulting juice is reduced down to 30% of its original volume. This reduction, called the must, is then placed into wooden barrels and left to age for a minimum of 12 years and for as long as 25 years (!!!).
I stopped by the newly-opened We Olive Store and Wine Bar in Trolley Square. I will have a profile on them later, but the short story is that they specialize in selling California olive oils and balsamic vinegars. I brought home a bottle of one of my favorites that I tried at the store: the mission fig balsamic vinegar. This vinegar is less tangy and more sweet, thanks to the addition of the mission figs, and I figured it would go perfectly with some pork chops.
Fig Balsamic-Glazed Pork Chops with Polenta Cakes and Wilted Spinach
1 tube of precooked polenta (I get mine from Trader Joe’s)
4 tablespoons fig balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
Fresh ground black pepper
4 4-ounce portions of boneless center-cut pork chops, trimmed
1 10-ounce bag of spinach
Put the balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and let it cook down about 1/3 of the original volume to concentrate the flavors (don’t go much more than that or you will have a syrup that’s too thick). Once cooked down, reserve the vinegar for later.
Place pork chops in a baking dish, cover each chop with olive oil, rosemary, some kosher salt, and black pepper. Turn the pork chops over and repeat.
Preheat a cast iron skillet and 2 tablespoons canola oil (or other high-temperature oil like grape seed) on medium-high heat. While it’s heating up, remove the polenta from the tube and cut them into 1/2 inch thick disks.
Place the polenta cakes into the skillet and cook until browned on both sides. Once cooked, put on a paper towel to remove excess oil from the cakes.
In the same skillet, place the pork chops and cooked to your desired temperature (I generally cook my pork chops to 135-140F). About a minute before they’re done, use a spoon or pastry brush to coat the pork chops with 1/2 of the reduced balsamic vinegar.
Pull the chops out a few degrees before they hit your desired temp (they’ll keep cooking due to residual heat). I highly suggest a quick read digital thermometer like the Thermapen to gauge meat doneness. No more overcooked proteins, and no more guess work.
While the pork is resting, dump the spinach in the same skillet and cook down to your desired doneness. Throw in some salt and pepper to taste.
Place a couple polenta cakes on your plate, top with a pork chop, and put the spinach on the side. Drizzle any remaining balsamic vinegar over the pork, and garnish with fresh rosemary.
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