Atlanta chef Kevin Gillespie was born to cook pig — this we know. The Top Chef fan favorite and author of a couple of our favorite cookbooks (especially his latest, Pure Pork Awesomeness) is one porkmaster whose recipes you can depend on for a hearty, meaty, smoky meal. This recipe makes for light, spicy and delightfully aromatic pork chops that cook up quickly.
Hong Kong Harbor is a Chinese restaurant just down the street from Woodfire Grill, where I used to work in Atlanta. One of their best dishes is salt and pepper pork chops. The chops are flash fried, so bone-in, thin chops work better than thick ones and will give you the best flavor. The breading is two parts all-purpose flour, one part cornstarch, and one part rice flour. This gives you a light, crisp crust. I retested this a few times to get it just right, and I can tell you that the dish won’t be the same without the Sichuan peppercorns. They add that tongue-numbing buzz to the spice rub. The stir-fried vegetables add crunch. The chiles bring the heat. And all these elements combine to make the dish work as a whole. Serve it with cooked white rice.
- 1/2 ounce Facing Heaven dried chiles or chiles de árbol, about 1/2 cup (see note below)
- 2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- About 1/2 cup grapeseed oil or canola oil
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup rice flour
- 4 bone-in pork rib chops, each about 2 ounces and 1/4 inch thick
- 1 1/2 cups white onion, julienned
- 1 large onion
- 1 bunch cilantro, leaves picked, about 20 (3-inch) stems reserved
- 3 large jalapeño peppers, thinly sliced into rings (about 1/4 cup)
- 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (about 3 tablespoons)
- 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely julienned (about 3 tablespoons)
- 6 scallions, root and tough ends removed, very bias sliced (about 1 cup)
- In a spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle, coarsely grind the chiles* and peppercorns. Add the salt and Chinese five-spice and grind to a powder.
- Heat a 1-inch depth of oil in a wok or deep, heavy skillet to 350°F.
- In a shallow bowl, whisk the all-purpose flour, cornstarch, and rice flour to combine. Pat the pork chops dry and cut in 1-inch intervals around the chop, through the outer layer of fat just down to the meat. (This helps keep the meat from curling up.)
- One by one, dredge the chops in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess, and fry for 1 minute. Transfer the chops to a paper towel-lined plate and lightly sprinkle with the spice mix.
- Carefully pour the oil from the wok or skillet, reserving and returning 1/4 cup back to the wok. Heat over high heat until just smoking. Have your vegetables ready to go; the cooking time here is very quick. Add the onion and cilantro stems to the wok and aggressively stir by holding a spoon in the center and shaking or rotating the wok or skillet vigorously quickly to mix everything together, about 20 seconds.
- Continue cooking for 20 seconds after each addition, adding the jalapeño, garlic and ginger, then the scallions and reserved cilantro leaves, then the pork chops and 2 teaspoons of the spice blend. Serve immediately.
*Note: Facing Heaven chiles are common in Sichuan home cooking. When they grow on the plant, the peppers point towards the sky and look similar to red jalapeño peppers but are a bit longer. If you can’t find them, the same amount of chiles de árbol makes a good substitute.
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