Category Archives: Weeknight Experiments

Tortilla-Crusted Pork Chops with Pickled Red Onions and Jalapenos

My friend Hobie writes: My kids eat nachos frequently, so we’re often faced with the dilemma of what to do with the crushed pieces at the bottom of the bag. Any thoughts?

Tony’s take: Hobie, these are the questions that keep me up at night. My normal solution to this specific scenario – to dig my fingers into the bottom of the bag and kinda cheez-doodle the last bits -robs you of your dignity (trust me). The good news is that tortilla crumbs do have quite a few culinary applications (see below),  My favorite entails coating them on pork chops and mixing them with quick-pickled jalapenos. Give it a whirl:


– Coat or sprinkle:  You can divide the repurposing of tortilla chips into two groups. You can crush them into small uniform crumbs,  pat onto chicken breasts, fish (mild, white-fleshed varieties like cod or tilapia), or pork chops, and pan-fry or roast in a hot oven (a modern riff on “Cornflakes Chicken”). Or you can sprinkle tortilla crumbs on tortilla soup, a black bean stew or white bean chili along with diced avocado, fresh tomato and chopped cilantro.

About the chops and chips: I tested both bone-in and boneless chops in this recipe: boneless are easier eating (and cooking), though I preferred the pairing of the hearty bone-in chops with the crisp crust. As for the tortillas, the goal is to make sure they become uniform crumbs (about the coarseness of Panko) so they coat evenly. If your chips have experienced a real storage/crushing problem, you might have enough (about 2 cups) from the remnants of one bag. Chances are, though, you’ll need to crush up some larger pieces to get to this amount. You can do so in a food processor, though I prefer smashing them in a zip-top bag, using a clenched fist and thinking angry thoughts:


The recipe: Serves 4

1. Season the chops:  Sprinkle 4 large center-cut bone-in pork chops (about 2 1/4 lb.) or 8 boneless chops (about  1 1/2 lb) with 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1/4 tsp. garlic powder, and 1/4 tsp. chipotle powder (or pimenton de la Vera).


2. Crush the tortilla crumbs:  Add 3 cups tortilla chip pieces (about 3 oz.) to a zip-top bag, seal (this is important), and then pound away until the pieces become uniform (the size of Panko); you should get a yield of about 2 cups; pound another cup or so if  using boneless chops.


3. Coat the chops: To 3 shallow bowls, add 1 cup all-purpose flour, 2 eggs (beaten), and the tortilla crumbs. Working one chop at a time, add the pork first to the flour (gently shake off any excess), then dip in the egg (here’s a good place to use tongs), and then drop into the tortilla crumbs (use your fingers to press and pat the tortillas onto the pork). Transfer to a large plate.


4. Sear-roast the chops: Heat the oven to 425F. Heat 2 Tbs. canola oil or vegetable oil in a large, heavy-based skillet (I used my cast-iron which fit 4 bone-in chops) over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering hot, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the chops (or half if cooking the boneless), evenly spaced, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the crust browns lightly, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook the other side for 1 minute (If using boneless, transfer the cooked chops to a plate and cook the remaining chops with 1 Tbs. oil). Transfer the pan to the oven and cook the pork until it becomes mostly firm to the touch and registers 145F when temped with an instant-read thermometer, 4 to 8 minutes depending on thickness.

 5. Serve (with pickled red onions): You could serve the chops as is with a wedge of lime, though I chose to up the tang quotient with some quick-pickled red onions (see below). However you serve the pork, make sure to let it rest for a minute or two before eating so the juices redistribute (ie: the pork stays juicy).


Spicy Pickled Red Onions: There really isn’t much to these, just wilt some sliced red onion and jalapeno with a little salt and sugar and then marinate in red wine vinegar for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 week: Add 1 sliced red onion (cut in half, peeled, and thinly sliced) and 1 sliced jalapeno (sliced in thin rings crosswise…with the seeds) to a large bowl. Toss with 1 tsp. kosher salt and 1 tsp. sugar and let sit for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally. Add 1/2 cup red wine vinegar and let sit for another 15 minutes before serving or cover, refrigerate, and hold for up to 1 week.

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Roasted Onion Soup with Sharp Cheddar and Thyme Croutons

tonyr_cook_k  Tony writes: I’m an onion-soup orderer. It’s my default at the kinds of places you’ll find in airport hotels (nondescript, continental-ish restaurants and generic sports bars). It’s a safe play: this soup usually elicits a decent effort from a kitchen and the combination of a rich broth, browned strips of onion, and an s-load of melted cheese is hard to screw up. But as happy as I am to eat onion soup, I never really make it at home. Too much work to do it right: a homemade beef broth, slow-caramelized onions, and little crocks to gratine the cheese. But what if there were an easy way to make a decent homemade onion soup without it being a complete hack job? Deep intense flavors without too much work? I started wondering on a recent chilly Sunday afternoon and went to the kitchen to find out.

-Quickening the caramelizing: In such a soup, the onions, themselves, would be the first (and most important) thing to simplify. The primary challenge to properly caramelized onions is patience (they’re the stove-top equivalent of toasting a marshmallow, with a whole lot of stirring taking the place of the stick). But if you transfer the browning of the onions to the oven, you could speed up the process and make the caramelizing hands-free. I cut the onion into thick wedges and roasted until they browned lightly and softened. Then, it was on to braising the golden strips in the soup.


 The method: I coarsely chopped the roasted wedges and sauteed them to a darker shade of brown. Then I added a splash of sherry and some canned beef broth (not my favorite, but surprisingly good in this preparation) and simmered until the onions were completely tender and the broth intensified. While the soup simmered, I made some croutons (to take the place of the traditional baguette round), baking the cubes of bread with fresh thyme until browned and crisp and then sprinkling with a generous layer of sharp cheddar. And the whole thing was good. Really good…

RECIPE (Serves 4)


1. Roast the onions: Heat the oven to 425F. Slice 1 large Spanish onion (about 1 lb.) into 3/4-inch wedges (cut the slices through the core so they hold together). Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with 3/4 tsp. kosher salt1/2 tsp. black pepper, and 2 Tbs. olive oil. Roast the onions until they brown lightly and soften, 12 to 15 minutes. IMG_0425

2. Make the soup: Let the onions cool for 5 min, then transfer to a large cutting board and coarsely chop. Heat a large, heavy-based pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 tsp. olive oil and the onions, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until they brown and soften, 5 to 8 min.  Add 1/3 cup dry sherry (or marsala) and cook, stirring, until it almost completely cooks off, 1 to 2 min. Add 1 quart canned beef broth (preferably low-sodium) and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions become completely tender and the flavors of the broth intensify, about 20 min.


3. Meanwhile, make the croutons: Heat the oven to 425F. Cut 8 oz. baguette (about 1/2 baguette) into 1/2 inch cubes. Toss the bread cubes with 2 Tbs. olive oil, 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme, and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt. Spread flat on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, tossing once or twice, until the croutons brown and crisp, about 10 min. Sprinkle the croutons with 6 oz. grated sharp cheddar (about 1 1/2 cups) and bake for another 1-2 min so the cheese melts.


4. Assemble the soup and serve: Taste the soup for salt and pepper; add a splash of sherry vinegar if you like. Ladle into bowls, top with the croutons, and serve.


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Chili meets stew: Chunky Beef and Three Bean Chipotle Chili

Bill writes: I’d like to work a chili into my repertoire. I’ve made a handful over the years, but nothing has stuck. Something a little different would be nice, but not too different (my teenage kids will be part of the dining population; also, I’d like it to be beef, not turkey or chicken please). Thanks!

Tony’s take: As far as challenges go, Bill, this is my kind. I could happily make chili a couple times a week, especially right now… last week’s blizzard left me with a fever that only spiced beans and beef can cure. As I understand your chili aspirations, you seek a mixture that’s unique without being off the wall, something worthy of coming back to regularly. I’ve developed a bunch of traditional chili recipes over the years, but my thought was to go in a different direction here: a hybrid chili that takes on some elements of a beef stew – large chunks of beef -, calls on a mix of beans and chiles, and builds a broth that’s more spiced than tomato-ey. Sound ok? Here’s an overview before getting to the recipe itself:



Stew-y: Cutting the beef large (about 1 1/2 inch chunks) give this chili some wintry substance and heft. It also means that the beef can hold up to slow cooking, which, in turn, allows the flavors of the surrounding broth to intensify. There are a couple of other stew elements here: I dredge the beef chunks in flour, which gives them a protective coating and also forms a faux-roux (thickening up the broth). And sweating diced vegetables (carrots and onions) gives the broth balance and depth.

3x the chiles and beans: Varying these elements isn’t intended to be fussy or precious; rather working in a mix of beans and chiles offers up some complexity. You can go with just 1 kind of bean (red kidneys would be my suggestion) or even use canned if you feel so moved. But dried beans are cheap and if you do get a couple of varieties (cannellini, black and red kidney here), it will only serve as further encouragement to use up the remainders in other preparations (or chilis). For heat, I also use both canned and dried chipotles as well as some fresh Thai chiles. Same deal, keep it simple if you like, but the variety makes things more interesting.

Garnish. A sprinkling of one or two  sprinklables will add some freshness, texture, and color to a dish that, no matter how good, can be monotonous once you get halfway through the bowl. I like crumbled queso fresco, fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime. If you have, avocado or crumbled tortilla chips are also a nice touch.

The recipe (Serves 6)

1. Cook the beans (soak first if you can): If you have the forethought, soak the beans (if not, just rinse and cook them following the instructions below). Set 2 cups dried beans (I went with 3/4 cup each black beans, kidney beans, and cannellini) in a large bowl and cover with cold water by a couple of inches. Let sit out overnight. The next day, drain the beans, rinse well and set in a large pot. Cover with cold water by a couple of inches. Add a couple garlic cloves, 2 bay leaves, and 1 dried chipotle chile. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook (over medium low heat), stirring occasionally (and adding more water if the level starts to drop), until the beans start to become tender, about 1 hour; note, they don’t need to become totally soft as they will cook more in the stew below. IMG_0029

2. Brown the beef : Cut 2 1/2 lb. boneless chuck roast into medium chunks (about 1 1/4 inches), trimming and discarding any large fatty patches or gristle. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt and pepper (about 2 tsp. and 1 tsp.), then dredge in all-purpose flour (1 cup), shaking off any excess. Heat a large, heavy-based Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 2 Tbs. olive oil and once it’s shimmering hot, add half of the beef, evenly spaced. Cook without touching for 1 to 2 minutes until the beef browns and easily releases when you lift up a corner. Flip, brown the other side, 1 to 2 minutes, and transfer to a large plate. Add another drizzle of oil, if needed, and cook the remaining beef in the same manner; transfer to the plate. IMG_0037


3. Make the broth and simmer: Lower the heat to medium, add  2 slices bacon (2 oz., cut into thin strips) and cook, stirring, until it renders much of its fat, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 Spanish onion (cut in 1/4-inch dice), 1 carrot (cut in 1/4-inch dice), and 1 jalapeno (chopped; or 2 Thai chiles), sprinkle lightly with salt, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to soften and brown lightly, about 4 minutes. Add 2 Tbs. tomato paste, 2 Tbs. chili powder,  2 tsp. ground cumin, and 1 tsp. dried oregano. Cook, stirring, until the spices sizzle steadily and become fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add 3/4 cup beer (or white wine) and cook, stirring to incorporate any browned bits on the bottom of the pot, until the liquid almost completely cooks off, 1 to 2 minutes. Ladle the beans and 1 cup of their juice into the pot along with 2 chipotle en adobo (minced), 2 Tbs. adobo sauce (from the can), and 3 Tbs. cider vinegar. Bring to a simmer and add the beef (and any of their juices). Adjust the heat to a light simmer (medium-low on my stovetop), cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beef becomes completely tender and the broth intensifies, about 1 1/2 hours. finish4. Garnish and serve: Season to taste with more salt, pepper, vinegar, or chipotle. Serve with your choice of toppings (see note above).

Note: Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months.


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Non-Stick Thinking: Spicy Stir-Fried Orange Chicken

Tony writes: I changed my mind. It happens. It’s not like I flip-flopped on a Congressional vote or sent a veal parm back because I really wanted chicken marsala in the first place (my mom pulled the latter at the old European in the North End in ’86 – I hid underneath the table for the rest of the meal). But in my world (or mind, at least), my culinary reversal was a big deal. It goes like this: recently, after much deliberation and testing, I concluded that I prefer stir-frying with non-stick cookware. Wait! I didn’t say that non-stick is optimum for stir frying (because it isn’t; the traditional restaurant method of crazy high heat and a seasoned carbon steel wok is still preferable); rather, I’ve decided that non-stick is the best way to stir-fry in my (and probably your) home kitchen (ie: working with a regular range and no exhaust hood). This realization represents a maturation on my part, an acceptance of my home-cooking capabilities and what produces the best results (Teflon ain’t macho). In addition to explaining how I came to this conclusion, I also share a recipe for a restaurant classic – orange chicken – jazzed up with fresh orange and a little heat.

Stir-frying tricks 

Why non-stick: I’m the first to point out the shortcomings of non-stick cookware. But after years of stir-frying, I’ve changed my position on its efficacy. The reason for this reversal comes down to stir-frying’s dual objectives texture (tender, perfectly cooked) and flavor (browned, almost smoky caramelization; what the Chinese refer to as wok hei). It’s hard to achieve perfection with both elements at home, especially the latter – most home ranges don’t have enough Btu’s. If you’re not going to get really great caramelization, you might as well make sure the texture is perfect. You may give up some flavor in a non-sick pan (because you just can’t get and keep it as hot), but the non-stick surface does allow you to get everything in and out of the pan quickly (without incurring any sticking), which ultimately results in tender, moist texture. Also, I prefer using a non-stick skillet as opposed to a wok; more surface area exposed to the heat of a flat stovetop.

Brown (but don’t cook through): The texture of properly stir-fried meats – moist, soft, tender – is almost as important as the resulting smoky flavor. To achieve this perfectly cooked moist doneness, aim to give the chicken some color on the outside, but make sure it’s well short of cooked through during the first stage of cooking (the initial sear); it will finish cooking during the final saucing stage.

Ketchup and corn starch: These are both important ingredients in this stir-fry. Intuitively, ketchup should have no place in Chinese cooking, but its spiced sweetness blends into traditional sweet and sour sauces, offering up a touch of complexity. The use of corn starch can be complicated – use too much and you get a gloppy mess. A light dusting of corn starch coats the chicken and keeps it moist during searing while a light drizzle in the form of a in a slurry (a thickening mixture of  corn starch and water) give this orange sauce a pleasantly rich texture.

The recipe (Serves 4)

1. “Marinate” the chicken: Set 1 1/4 lb. chicken breast (2 medium) on a plate and transfer to the freezer to chill for 10 minutes (this semi-freezing will help it firm up, which, in turn, will make it easier to slice uniformly). Trim any fat off the chicken, butterfly the breasts, and cut into 1-inch chunks. Toss with 1 Tbs. soy sauce, 1 Tbs. dry sherry (or Shaoxing wine), 1 tsp.  corn starch, and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt. Let sit for 10 minutes at room temperature. IMG_0002 IMG_0007 2. Make the sauce: In a small bowl, mix the juice of 1/2 orange (about 1/4 cup), 2 Tbs. soy sauce, 1 Tbs. ketchup, 1 Tbs. sherry (or Shaoxing wine), 1 Tbs. rice vinegar, and 1 tsp. sugar. IMG_0010 3. Stir-fry (sear, then sauce): Heat 1 1/2 Tbs. canola or peanut oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering hot, about 1 minute. Add the chicken and cook, stirring, until it browns in places and loses most all of its exterior raw color, about 2 minutes (it should still be raw-ish if you cut into a thick piece). Slide off onto a large plate. Add a light drizzle of oil, 3 scallions (trimmed and thinly sliced), a couple strips of orange zest (use a peeler) and 2 dried chiles (broken into large pieces). Cook until they start to sizzle steadily and become fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the sauce mixture and bring to a boil. In a small bowl, mix 2 tsp. corn starch with 2 Tbs. water (so it’s uniform with no chunks). Whisk into the simmering sauce; it should thicken immediately. Return the chicken to the pan and cook, still over medium-high heat, tossing with the sauce, until the chicken finishes cooking through (slice into a thicker piece) and the sauce coats it, 1 to 2 minutes; add a splash of water or chicken broth as needed to loosen the sauce. Serve sprinkled with some more scallion and with white rice and stir-fried broccoli.




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Fantasy Football Fare: Spicy Shredded Chicken Soft Tacos

Kathy writes: We’re hosting a playoff football party next week. Not my idea, but I’m happy to cook. I want to make pulled chicken. I’ve done pulled pork before. Is chicken more or less the same gig? I give you creative license, Cook Angel, to guide me here. Thanks!

Tony’s take: You’re right, Kathy: “pulling” generally applies to pork, but the technique can also work with beef, lamb, or chicken. There’s no clear line separating “pulling” from “shredding” or any other form of breaking up slow-cooked meat into small pieces, but all of these preparations follow a basic method: take a full-flavored cut (ie: fatty or well marbled), season it well (anything from S+P to a spice rub), and then slow-cook (either a braise or some form of roasting) until the meat becomes extremely tender; tender enough that it can be pulled or shredded. If you add some smoke during roasting, as is traditional with Southern barbecue, all the better. If you braise, the cooking needs to be at a low temperature so that it melts the meat’s marbling, collagen, and fat instead of making the cut tough (as high heat would) – check out Molly Stevens’ tome for the definitive word on all things braising. The broth should be relatively tangy to match the richness of the cut. To serve, you can pile the shredded meat into a bun Carolina BBQ-style, though with that power you’ve vested in me, I’m going to call an audible and guide you towards tacos; a little more jazzy, easier to serve yourself, better fitting with the overall mood of a party.  You’ll still follow the same cooking method, only change up the flavorings and the ultimate destination. Braise the chicken in a spicy broth of smashed garlic cloves, whole chipotles, a touch of tomato paste, and beer until it becomes completely tender. Then shred, serve on corn tortillas with your choice of toppings and huddle up for the game. That fulfills your hosting responsibilities, now it’s up to your team to do its thing.

1. Season the chicken: Use thighs here (preferably boneless). Breast meat is too lean to braise. The fatty patches in chicken thighs (which ordinarily can make them undesirable to some), cook off beautifully in this preparation:  Set 2 lb. boneless chicken thighs (about 8) in a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix 2 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. black pepper, 1 tsp. granulated sugar, 1 tsp. chili powder, and 1/4 tsp. chipotle powder, then sprinkle on the chicken and toss well. Hold for up to 1 day in the refrigerator for best  flavor.

2. Sear: Browning=flavor so the goal in this step is to get a good, even sear. Do so over medium heat so you don’t scorch the sugar or spices in the rub. Set a large heavy-based Dutch oven or medium pot over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add 2 Tbs. olive oil and, once it’s shimmering hot, set half of the chicken in the pot, evenly spaced. Sear without touching until the chicken browns around the edges and easily releases from the pot, about 2 minutes. Flip and brown the other side, 2 minutes. Transfer to a large plate and cook the remaining chicken thighs in the same manner (and transfer them to the same plate). 

3. Braise: The real trick here is to find the right braising temp on your range (or in your oven) to maintain a very gentle simmer. On my electric stovetop, it’s right around medium-low, though on a good gas range, it can be closer to low:  Raise the heat to medium high, add 3 smashed garlic cloves, 2 to 3 dried chipotles, and 2 bay leaves and cook, stirring, until they sizzle steadily and become fragrant, 30 seconds. Add 3/4 cup beer (go with a light lager if you have) and cook, scraping the bottom of the pot to incorporate any caramelized browned bits until the liquid almost completely cooks off, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 cup chicken broth and 1 Tbs. tomato paste  and bring to a boil. Reduce to a light simmer, tuck the browned chicken thighs into the broth, cover, and cook, flipping the chicken occasionally, until it becomes completely tender (it should pull apart easily) and the fatty patches cook off, about 1 hour.

4. “Pull” and serve: Fingers, tongs, or a knife would be fine, though I’m partial to a couple of small forks; they work delicately, plus they allow you to shred while the meat is still hot: Remove the braise from the oven, uncover and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes to cool a bit. Then using the tines of 2 forks, shred the chicken into thin strips. Serve on warm corn tortillas with your choice of toppings. I went with a colorful mix of avocado, thinly sliced radish, and cilantro

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