The arrival of August brought with it significantly more comfortable weather than one would normally expect this time of year, but more importantly coincided with the arrival of The Mind of a Chef’s third season on Netflix. We had DVR’d as much of the season as we could last fall, but of course with the move we had to give up the box and either wait not-so-patiently to appear on our streaming networks or bite the bullet and buy the season outright. (We probably would have done the latter if PBS didn’t break up the DVDs by chef, which is kind of annoying on their part, but so it goes.) Like season two the episodes are split between two chefs, with the first half devoted to Edward Lee (he was on the ninth season of Top Chef) and the second to Mangus Nilsson (his restaurant in Sweden is ranked 25th-best in the world as of 2015). They both bring some really interesting worldviews to the series, whether it’s ice fishing in the pale blue dawn or taking us through favorite haunts in Queens, and their styles of food are both so different from what we usually make that it’s so much fun to immerse yourself and binge-watch the whole series at once.
To be frank, the show as a whole is so intellectually nourishing because not only do you get to understand food from some really creative chefs’ points of view, but it very much acknowledges that food as a medium and cooking as an art/skill requires engaging with the larger world and experiencing other people’s perspectives. The titular chefs have culinary authority not because they are OMG SO CREATIVE and come up with original recipes (even though they are and they do), but because they all have an intellectual curiosity that propels them to try different things but they acknowledge where they found the initial inspiration. We’re given a narrative of the creative process rather than simply assume that they just dreamed these dishes in a vacuum.
The third of Lee’s run of episodes is spent down in Patagonia and he does some traditional grilling with Francis Mallmann–considered one of the best chefs in South America–using a variety of traditional Argentinian techniques. I bought Mallmann’s cookbook Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way for Michael for Christmas a couple of years ago, and while we have yet to have the space to set up a proper asador, every recipe we’ve tried from the book has been nothing but incredible.
So of course when I started flipping through cookbooks on Sunday morning looking for a pork-based dish and rejecting most of them because they were either for meatballs (we had made lamb versions the night before), roasts, or braises, I finally opened up Seven Fires and found quite possibly the most perfect summertime pork dish to try: peached pork. When Michael reminded me of the episode it was clear we had to make it, as I knew that we’d be cooking that evening with The Mind of a Chef on in the background.
Of all of the dishes in Seven Fires, probably the most accessible to those of us with no proper grills are the ones that feature the chapa; traditionally it’s a flat cast-iron griddle that goes directly over a fire, but for us city mice this can be replicated at least in part with a cast-iron skillet. This dish is incredibly straightforward, as the pork is butterflied and then pounded to a thinness of 3/4 of an inch, rubbed with a simple marinade of garlic, rosemary, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then cooked directly on the griddle alongside halved peaches that get a little extra flavor boost from some melted butter. Having a nice box of apricots to use up we chose those in lieu of the peaches and picked up a pork sirloin roast instead of a tenderloin, but otherwise we kept the rest of the preparation intact.
Good God, the pork is ridiculous. It’s tender and flavorful–even more tender than I expected for a pork that isn’t brined ahead of time–and the rosemary and garlic form a formidable crust that imparts an intense flavor, when you bite into a slice. That is then compounded when you toss in an apricot that has essentially gently fried in butter and oil and pork fat, because it becomes a little power pack of sauce that pairs perfectly with the meat. It’s not overly sweet as the tartness of the apricots really come to the forefront, and I’d like to try this with the prescribed peaches the next time just to see what, if any differences exist between the two.
This is an ideal summer dish: substantial without requiring turning on the oven while celebrating the height of stone fruit season. Served with some Malbec that I had been saving for the perfect pairing as well as Stephanie Izard’s stone fruit and tomato salad, and this was an extremely satisfying meal.
Slightly adapted from Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way by Francis Mallmann
- 1 2 1/4 lb pork sirloin roast, trimmed of fat and membranes and butterflied flat
- 8 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons minced rosemary leaves
- 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (enough to season both sides of the pork well)
- 8-10 apricots, halved with the skins left on
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Combine six tablespoons of the olive oil and all of the rosemary and garlic in a bowl and combine thoroughly; set aside.
Lay the butterflied and trimmed pork on a cutting board and using a mallet, pound it out until the meat is about 3/4 of an inch thick. Season the pork on both sides with salt and pepper, and then spread half of the garlic-rosemary mixture on each side of the pork.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a cast iron skillet or griddle (whatever you have) and eat over medium heat. When a drop of water sizzles on the surface immediately, the pan is hot enough. Add the pork on one side and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the meat is well-browned and crusty. In the meantime, you’ll add in the apricots all around the meat cut-side down, and take bits of butter to dot around and between all of the apricots. They are done when they are softer and slightly charred; remove them and cover them to keep warm.
Once the first side is well-browned, flip the meat over and cook for another seven minutes or so, using an additional tablespoon of olive oil if needed. Transfer the meat to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest for at least three minutes before serving with the apricots.