Welcome to Easter Dinner: small household edition. It doesn’t look bad, does it? I mean, this plate might lack the dramatic effect of a glistening ham dripping with pineapple rings or the majesty of a rosemary-trimmed leg of lamb with a side of golden fat roasted potatoes. But this meal boasts glossy Vanilla Bourbon Pork Chops paired with braised red cabbage accented with dried sour cherries and a small mountain of crème fraîche watercress mash. So yeah, this isn’t some impressive roast/centerpiece you can present with a flourish but I promise you this meal tastes every inch as good as one. So let’s make it!
Will it be lamb or ham? Every Easter I ask myself the same question. It’s as much a part of our annual traditions as purchasing a chocolate Easter bunny that was probably manufactured with a five-year-old in mind. When I was growing up Easter dinner was either a leg of lamb or a glazed ham. And yes, every year it predictably led to a passionate debate if not an all-out fight. These days I live in a two-person household, so both the leg and the ham are out of the question. I’m fairly creative regarding leftovers but even I can’t make 17 unique meals out of the remnants of a ham. I also don’t want to.
So instead, every year I come up with a recipe that is small crowd friendly, and scalable but still hints at the Easter dinners of my youth. Last year I went with lamb and whipped up these Vindaloo Braised Lamb Shanks with Spice Yogurt Risotto. I recently posted a full-length tutorial of that recipe if you’re seeking extra guidance. This year I’m attempting to evoke the magic of a ham dinner.
Truth be told these Vanilla Bourbon Pork Chops with these particular sides borrow from two common dinners from my childhood. The first is my aunt’s roast pork dinner with braised red cabbage and stewed lentils. And the second is my grandmother’s legendary ham with candy sauce. We always had mashed potatoes with that particular meal, so naturally, I had to include them.
But before I get carried away talking about the sides, let’s talk about the main event. Now, I realize pork chops aren’t a particularly expensive cut, so it may seem strange to select them for a holiday dinner. But I honestly can’t understand why they don’t get more respect. First of all, they are delicious and satisfying and yes, versatile. They deserve more than a dismissive nod. These Vanilla Bourbon Pork Chops are particularly deserving of your attention.
These dressed-up chops start with a dry brine. Now, a dry brine sounds fancy but it’s nothing more than sprinkling some meat with salt and letting it hang out for a while. That really is it! So, we’re going to sprinkle a couple of pork chops with a medley of salt and turbinado sugar. Then we’re going to leave the meat uncovered in the fridge for at least eight hours or up to 24. Don’t leave them longer than that or they will be too salty. And make sure you select nice and thick pork chops – we’re talking at least an inch and a half thick.
Once your pork chops are good to go, place them in an oven-safe skillet and pop them in a low oven. We’re going to cook them low and slow until they reach an internal temperature of about 110°F. When they get there, take them out of the oven and sear them on the stove until they are golden and they register an internal temperature of about 130°F. Take them out of the pan and tent them with foil. Leave the chops to rest for 10 minutes.
While the chops are resting, build a quick pan sauce in the skillet you used to cook the pork in. Add butter, brown sugar, bourbon, and a vanilla bean. Leave the sauce to bubble until the sugar melts completely. Spoon the sauce over the rested chops and your Vanilla Bourbon Pork Chops are good to go, so hopefully, your sides are too. Timing is a bit tricky with this meal, so I will try my best to outline the best course of action.
Let’s talk about braised red cabbage. This is the dish I like to get going first. I start this dish about 2 hours out from my intended dinner time. Start by shaving a red cabbage thinly on a mandoline. Saute some shallots and garlic and add all the cabbage to the party. Stir in brown sugar, vegetable stock, a good amount of vinegar, and sour cherries. Bring to a simmer, cover, and let cook until very tender. This should take about 2 hours, that’s why I like to get it underway as early as possible. The cabbage is time-consuming but it more or less takes care of itself, so you can fiddle with pork and the mash while it does its thing. And speaking of the mash, let’s get into it.
The thing I love most about mashed potatoes is you can pretty much change their entire personality with a few interesting mix-ins. Regardless of the style of mash, you’re making, mashed potatoes start life the same way – boiled in water in a large pot. Whether or not you peel your potatoes is up to you. My mother used to always leave the skins on for the extra vitamins. But she would peel the potatoes on special occasions for maximum mashed potato creaminess. I peeled my potatoes because Easter is the perfect excuse.
Once the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them, and if you want you can put them through a ricer. A ricer does yield the smoothest mashed potatoes, so if that’s what you’re after grab your ricer. I went with a classic masher because I like my mashed potatoes with a hint of texture. Add a little butter, a good amount of creme fraiche, a smattering of chopped chives, and a mountain of watercress. Watercress decreases in volume when introduced to heat, so it will look initially like you’ve added too much but I promise it isn’t. Mash until the mixture is more or less cohesive. Hopefully, your mash will be finished just as your pork chops’ rest time is wrapping up.
And with that, it’s time to plate and dig in. I like to add a little extra watercress to the plate for an extra pop of color. And there you go, Vanilla Bourbon Pork Chops with Creme Fraiche Watercress Mash and Braised Red Cabbage with Dried Sour Cherries. An Easter meal that can be scaled up or down as your numbers dictate.
Happy Easter to all who celebrate! Enjoy!
Vanilla Bourbon Pork Chops
- 1 Large pot
- 2 large skillets
- 1 cooling rack
- 1 Small Baking Sheet
Vanilla Bourbon Pork Chops
- 4 bone-in pork chops 1 1/2 inches thick
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp turbinado sugar
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 oz bourbon
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
Braised Red Cabbage with Dried Cherries
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 shallots halved and sliced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ½ head red cabbage shaved thin on a mandolin
- ½ cup dried cherries
- ½ cup vegetable stock
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
Crème Fraîche Watercress Mash
- 6 small Yukon Gold potatoes peeled and halved
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup crème fraîche
- ¼ cup milk I used 2%
- ¼ cup fresh chives finely chopped
- 1 cup watercress tightly packed
- 1 tsp salt
For the Pork Chops
- Mix the salt and sugar together and sprinkle the mixture over the pork chops. Set the chops on a cooling rack suspended over a baking sheet and transfer them to the fridge. Leave the pork to dry brine for a minimum of 8 hours and a maximum of 24 hours. **4 bone-in pork chops, 1 tbsp salt, 1 tbsp turbinado sugar
- Once the chops are brined, preheat the oven to 250°F. Coat a large oven-safe skillet with the olive oil and place the pork chops in the skillet. Transfer them to the oven. Roast the chops until they register an internal temperature of 110°F. This should take about 15-20 minutes.2 tbsp olive oil
- Transfer the chops to the stove and place them over high heat. Sear until the chops are golden on both sides. This shouldn't take more than 30 seconds a side. Transfer the chops from the pan and tent them with foil. Let rest for 10 minutes.
- In the same pan, melt the butter. Add the bourbon, brown sugar, vanilla bean, and soy sauce. Swirl the pan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Spoon the sauce over the pork chops and keep warm until ready to serve.2 tbsp butter, 2 oz bourbon, 2 tbsp brown sugar, 1 vanilla bean, 1 tbsp soy sauce
For the Cabbage
- When the pork chops are in their last hour of brining, get the cabbage going. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet until shimmering. Add the shallots with a generous pinch of salt. Sauté until just translucent. Stir in the garlic and sauté until fragrant.2 tbsp olive oil, 4 shallots, 2 cloves garlic
- Stir in the cabbage, dried cherries, vegetable stock, apple cider vinegar, and brown sugar. Add a generous pinch of salt and bring everything up to a gentle simmer. Cover and let cook for 2 hours.½ head red cabbage, ½ cup dried cherries, ½ cup vegetable stock, ½ cup apple cider vinegar, 2 tbsp brown sugar
For the Mash
- Once the cabbage is in the last 45 minutes of its cook time, place the potatoes in a large pot and cover them with cold water. Bring it up to a boil and liberally salt the water. Boil until the potatoes are fork-tender.6 small Yukon Gold potatoes
- Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot. Add the garlic, butter, crème fraîche, milk, chives, watercress, and salt. Mash the potatoes with a masher until the butter melts and everything is well integrated.2 cloves garlic, 2 tbsp unsalted butter, ⅓ cup crème fraîche, ¼ cup milk, ¼ cup fresh chives, 1 cup watercress, 1 tsp salt
- Place a chop on a plate and add a scoop of the mash, and some of the braised cabbage. Garnish with additional fresh watercress and serve immediately.