JeanMarie Brownson: A cast-iron skillet is perfect for pork chops

<p>You can serve this dish hot from the pan.</p>

JeanMarie Brownson/TNS

You can serve this dish hot from the pan.

If you only own one pan, make it a cast-iron skillet. This versatile pan will serve you well, from making breakfast pancakes to griddled sandwiches to main-course meats and vegetables.

The most important technique when cooking in cast-iron is to heat the pan well before adding anything, including oil. The hot surface prevents food from sticking, basically creating a nonstick surface. Once the pan is hot, add a little oil (less than you think) and then the meat or vegetables. There’s no need to use high heat with cast-iron; it conducts heat so well that medium heat is almost always just right for browning chops and searing vegetables.

I like to pair ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice blend made with cinnamon and cumin, with the dark flavors of browned meat, raisins, olives and rich balsamic vinegar. Here, the blend seasons pork chops destined for a pile of sauteed peppers.

Golden Pork Chops with Sweet Peppers and Olives

Makes 2 to 3 servings

  • 2 teaspoons ras el hanout seasoning (OR 1/2 teaspoon each: cinnamon, paprika, ground cumin and 1/4 teaspoon each: thyme, ground cloves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 2 to 3 bone-in rib pork chops, each about 1 inch thick and 8 to 10 ounces
  • 1 small red onion, halved
  • 1/2 of each, small: red, yellow and green bell peppers
  • 1/3 cup dark raisins
  • 1/4 cup sliced pitted Kalamata olives
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil for high-heat cooking, such as grapeseed, sunflower or safflower oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons butter
  • Chopped fresh parsley, chives or green onions (or a combination), for garnish
  • Cooked polenta or egg noodles, for serving

1. Mix ras el hanout, salt and pepper in a small dish. Pat pork chops dry, then season generously on both sides with about 2/3 of the salt mixture. Refrigerate chops, covered loosely, up to 24 hours.

2. Thinly slice the onion and bell peppers. Mix raisins, olives, garlic and remaining salt mixture in a small bowl.

3. Set a 10- or 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Let the empty pan heat until drops of water sizzle on contact. Add 1 tablespoon oil and swirl to coat the pan bottom, then add the onions and peppers. Cook, stirring often, until peppers are crisp-tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in raisin mixture. Cook 1 minute, then transfer to a bowl.

4. Reheat the pan if necessary, then add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Add pork chops in a single, uncrowded layer. Cook, without turning, over medium heat until bottoms are beautifully bronzed, about 6 minutes. Flip and brown the other side, about 4 minutes. Remove to a plate.

5. Pour vinegar into pan and heat to boil while scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan. Swirl in the butter and when it’s melted return the pepper mixture to the pan. Nestle in the pork chops. Remove from heat. Garnish with herbs. Serve hot from the pan with cooked polenta or egg noodles.

(JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel and dining for more than four decades.)