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Serve up succulent grilled chops

June 25, 2009|By AMANDA GOLD / San Francisco Chronicle

Chops are the Cinderellas of the grill. Cooks gravitate toward popular burgers, hot dogs and chicken breasts, casting chops aside as neglected stepchildren.

Though chops may be overlooked, these manageable cuts of lamb and pork are the ideal party food, easy to prepare yet gourmet enough to impress discerning guests. Chops can be prepped and seasoned hours in advance.

Lamb chops have the advantage of being thin cuts of meat. Not only will they finish cooking in just 4 to 8 minutes, but the seasoning will permeate the meat much more readily than a thicker cut.

By nature, lamb chops favor Mediterranean or heavily spiced flavors, which make them a nice vehicle for marinades like harissa, a Moroccan paste of red chile peppers and cumin. Mixed with olive oil, garlic and the barest hint of cinnamon, the thin chops can marinate for as little as 30 minutes.

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Cooking pork chops requires more finesse and attention. They're thicker, leaner cuts of meat, which means they have a tendency to dry out or overcook.

To combat this problem, start with the grilling method.

Chops from the rib or loin benefit from a more indirect cooking technique. Heating one side of the grill at a high temperature and the other at medium allows the chops to sear and caramelize over high heat. Moving the chops to medium and shutting the lid will circulate heat and cook the chops through without burning the exterior.

To avoid overcooking, take pork chops off the grill when they hit 145 to 150 degrees. The internal temperature will continue to climb for a few minutes once removed, and the barest hint of pink inside is perfectly fine -- even preferable, for a juicier chop.

MAPLE-BRINED PORK CHOPS
WITH HERBED CHERRY COMPOTE



Serves 4

The brine:

1 cup kosher salt
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup pure maple syrup
5 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf, torn into small pieces
3 sprigs thyme
8 cups water

The chops:

4 pork loin chops
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil

The compote:

2 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot, minced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons cherry preserves
2 cups pitted fresh cherries, halved
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
3/4 teaspoon dried lavender

To brine chops: Combine brine ingredients in a large bowl; stir well until salt and sugar dissolves. Submerge pork chops into the brine (you may need to weight them down with a small plate), cover well and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours. Do not brine for more than 12 hours; if you're not ready to grill, remove chops from brine and refrigerate on a plate up to 24 hours.

To grill, dry chops well, sprinkle with black pepper on both sides and rub with olive oil. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat grill so one side of it is set to high heat, the other to medium. Sear chops for 2 minutes on each side over high heat, then move to grill's medium-hot side. Cover and cook until chops' internal temperature reaches 145 to 150 degrees, about another 10 minutes (you'll want to flip the chops halfway through cooking time). Remove to a platter and let rest for 10 minutes.

For the compote: Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat until bubbling. Add shallots and saute until fragrant and slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar and cook until reduced by half and syrupy, another 2 to 3 minutes. Add preserves and fresh cherries, and cook another 3-4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove from heat, and stir in the herbs until well combined.

Pour compote over the pork chops and serve immediately.

HARISSA-RUBBED LAMB CHOPS



Serves 4-6

These are good served alone but also would be nice with yogurt seasoned with cumin. Harissa is available in the Middle East foods section of many supermarkets.

1/4 cup harissa
1/2 cup olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
16 single-rib lamb chops

Whisk together harissa, olive oil, garlic and spices until well combined. Rub evenly over both sides of each lamb chop, and place on a baking sheet. Let marinate at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes, or keep in fridge for up to 4 hours. Preheat grill to high heat. Remove chops from the marinade and wipe off excess, leaving a little bit on the chops. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

HOISIN & GINGER GLAZED PORK CHOPS



Serves 4

4 bone-in pork rib chops, about 2 pounds total
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 green onion, sliced thin on the bias into 2-inch lengths

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