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:

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– 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:

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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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