Thursday, May 10, 2012

Timing can be everything

May 6, 2012
Skillet-Glazed Pork Chops
Boiled potatoes
Glazed Carrots
Forest Ville 2010 Riesling
Best Butterscotch Pudding

One of the more challenging aspects of cooking a meal is timing. Ideally you want all of the meal's courses to be ready at the same time so they can be served at the ideal temperature and degree of doneness. I found this to be particularly challenging when I first started cooking, many years ago, and this challenge can still trip me up as it did with this meal.

This was an interesting dinner in that all three courses were prepared on the stove top at the same time. None were in the oven, none were cooked outside on the grill, nothing was prepared ahead of time. The challenge was deciding when to start the vegetables so they would finish at around the same time as the pork chops. The pork was to be cooked to an internal temperature of 140° and the recipe provided only an estimate of how long that would take, an estimate probably based on a gas rather than an electric stove. I had even thought I might stop cooking three of the four chops before reaching 140° so they wouldn't be overcooked when reheated for leftovers, adding to the challenge.

The pork chops took longer than anticipated. As the temperature crept ever so slowly towards 140° I was loathe to check it too frequently as each time I did a new hole was made in the meat through which juices could escape.  I don't know if it was just my perception or if I was distracted and didn't notice the time, but it seemed that after a slow gradual rise, the temperature jumped  upward when I wasn't looking.  After the meat reached 130° I waited a little while (playing a little Words with Friends while I waited) and when I checked again it had raced past 140° to 150°–170°  depending on which chop I checked. I was surprised. The sauce was done just about right by this time and not overcooked and it didn't need any further reduction. The pork was overdone and a little dry and tough.

Because of the longer than expected cooking time for the meat, the vegetables were on course to finish well ahead of time. I turned down the heat as the pork cooked when it became clear they would finish before the meat. The potatoes were fine, kept nice and warm in their hot water bath, and they were not overcooked. The carrots also fared reasonably well though they were a little over done, but not too bad. A pound of carrots was just the right amount for the two of use. They were cooked in chicken stock and glazed with butter and granulated sugar.

On to dessert, which was made in advance as it had to cool in the refrigerator for three hours after cooking. I have made chocolate pudding from scratch several times and found it to be delicious: chocolatey, creamy, and smooth. So I was happy to test a new America's Test Kitchen recipe for butterscotch pudding that I received last week. Making this pudding was more complicated than the chocolate pudding as it takes time to develop the butterscotch flavor. This part of the process is very much like making candy as you create a caramel by heating a mixture of water, lemon juice, corn syrup, granulated sugar, dark brown sugar, and salt to a temperature of 300°. (I was happy to find that my digital instant-read thermometer works to this temperature. I was a worried that it would be damaged or just not work.) It took about half an hour to raise the temperature this high. The mixture was then mixed with cream and milk and added to a cornstarch and egg yolk mixture to thicken. It was finished off with some vanilla and rum; the recipe called for dark rum but I wasn't about to buy a bottle just for this so used the light rum we had on hand.

In my review of the recipe for America's Test Kitchen I replied that I would probably not make the recipe again. Not because it wasn't good. The flavors were intense and the consistency very smooth, very creamy. Diane said the flavor reminded her of butterscotch candy while I was reminded of a Test Kitchen recipe for "Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies" that uses brown butter to impart a toffee flavor. However, while it was very good, the flavor was not to Diane's taste nor to mine. I am inspired, though, to try other homemade pudding recipes. They are so much better than the box puddings that we are all used to and well worth the extra effort to make.

So while my timing could have better, the meal turned out OK. A bigger problem than the overcooked carrots was the overcooked meat. I worry that this will only be exacerbated when they are reheated for leftovers.

Skillet-Glazed Pork Chops from Cook's Country
Glazed Carrots, Cook's Illustrated Cookbook, 2011, p. 256

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