They don’t make pork like they used to. Modern pork is raised lean for health reasons but in the process a lot of flavor got lost. But there are ways to make up for the lack of intrinsic flavor, like this simple Tuscan method for making pork chops called maiale ubriaco, or Drunken Pork. (NB: It could also be translated as ‘drunken pig’, since Italian does not have separate words for ‘pig’ and ‘pork’.)
For 4-6 people
- 4-6 bone-in pork chops
- 1-2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- A few sprigs of fresh parsley, finely minced
- A pinch of fennel seeds
- A glass of red wine
- Salt and pepper
Make a trito by finely mincing a garlic clove or two and a handful of parsley. Add it to a skillet large enough to hold all your pork chops in a single layer, together with salt, pepper and a sprinkling of fennel seeds. Sauté over moderate heat until you begin to smell the garlic and fennel.
Add your pork chops (well dried with a paper towel to aid browning) and brown just lightly on each side, for about 3 or 4 minutes per side, taking care to regulate the heat so that the garlic does not burn. Pour over some red wine, just a glassful or so, lower the heat a bit so the wine simmers gently. Continue simmering, turning the chops from time to time to ensure even cooking and coating with the red wine. They should turn a nice burgundy color as they absorb the wine.
When the red wine has almost completely evaporated, transfer the chops to a serving dish. Raise the heat to high and add a bit more red wine to deglaze the pan, reducing the wine to a syrupy consistency. Pour over the pork chops and serve immediately.
This version of Drunken Pork is suitable for lean pork chops like loin and center cut chops, as it cooks fairly quickly, no more than 20-30 minutes total. This relatively short cooking time should ensure that the chops do not dry out too much, but do look for chops with a bit of fat on them.
Another version calls for adding much more red wine—enough the barely cover the chops—and a much longer cooking time (45-60 minutes) covered. Of course, this gives the pork a much more intensely ‘winey’ flavor and produces a wonderfully thick sauce. A nice dish for cooler weather. For this ‘winter’ version of the dish, you need a cut of pork that will stand up to long, slow, moist cooking, like a pork shoulder chop.
Some recipes for Drunken Pork do not call for the fennel seeds, but they are typical of this dish and lend a nice, somewhat unusual flavor. In some versions, you reduce the wine until it has entirely evaporated and serve the chops without a sauce. Conversely, some other versions will have you cook the chops completely without wine, remove them, and then add the trito, sauté briefly, then deglaze the skillet with red wine. You then pour the resulting sauce over the chops.
For the wine to accompany your Drunken Pork, a Tuscan red would naturally be ideal. You could simply use a bit of whatever wine you plan to drink with your meal. Nothing too fancy, mind you, a young Chianti or a simple sangiovese would do nicely. For the winter version, you may want a wine with more body.