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Feb 15, 2011
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Wine With . . . Pork Chops à la Normande

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

Even though Normandy is one of the few French regions that produces no wine, it nevertheless has a highly individual and imaginative cuisine.  Today we would define Normandy’s food as the ultimate in "locavore" cooking, for it is based on what is most locally available: in this case, apples and cream.  Instead of wine, apple cider is the iconic Norman beverage.  (Cider was traditionally drunk throughout the meal, like wine in other parts of France.)  Calvados is Normandy’s distilled juice of the apple, which has usually been aged in oak casks.

As for the cream, it is used to make the fabulous cheeses, including Camembert and Pont l’Eveque, that are Normandy’s great gifts to the world of gastronomy.  Any recipe that is described as “à la Normande,” whether based on seafood, chicken, pork or even sweet crèpes, will have cream and apples, and most likely Calvados, in it.  Even though this particular dish is not especially tricky or time-consuming to prepare, the result is rich, succulent, and as we discovered, exceedingly wine-friendly.

Pork Chops à la Normande

Serves 2

2 bone-in pork chops, about 1½ inches thick

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil or neutral vegetable oil

2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup minced onion

1 tart green apple, peeled, cored and cut in large dice

1 clove garlic, minced

1/3 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons Calvados

1/3 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper the pork chops.  (If possible, do this up to several hours ahead and keep them lightly covered in the refrigerator until ready to use).  Heat the oil and butter in a skillet large enough to hold both chops without crowding (we like to use a nonstick pan).  When the butter is foaming, blot the chops dry on both sides with a paper towel and cook them over medium-high heat about 4-5 minutes on each side, adjusting the heat to make sure they don’t burn.  Remove them to a platter and add the onions and apples to the pan, stirring as they cook over medium to high heat.

When the onions are tender and lightly browned, add the garlic and cook for about a minute, then pour in the chicken broth and boil it for a couple of minutes.  Add the Calvados and stir, over high heat, for about a minute; then pour in the cream and continue cooking until the mixture has reduced by about half.  Return the chops to the pan and simmer just long enough to make sure they have reheated.  Taste the sauce for seasoning.  Place each chop on a serving plate and spoon the sauce over them.

Accompany the chops with a fairly neutral side dish.  We like it with oven-roasted diced potatoes tossed with olive oil and salt. 

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This dish works equally well with red and white wines, with one important caveat.  Being rich itself, it needs wines that themselves are inherently rich.  In our tasting, a light-bodied, refined but slightly tart red New Zealand Pinot Noir was overwhelmed by it, as (to our surprise) was a crisp, apple-scented Chablis.  By contrast, a richer Pinot and a fuller-bodied Chardonnay, both from California, proved very satisfying.  This isn’t to say that Golden State wines will necessarily fare best, but rather that the dish requires a fairly fleshy texture and full flavor if the wine is to hold its own with it.

 

         Selection

 

 

Approx. Price

 

Comments

 

Byron, Santa Maria Valley (California) Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard 2008

 

 

 

$40

 

Tasting first of ripe cherries with secondary accents of sweet spice and vanilla, this is a fairly substantial Pinot Noir.  It has real heft on the palate, more perhaps than people sometimes want from this inherently delicate varietal, but exactly what this particular dish requires in order for the match to be successful.

 

 

 

Candor, Central Coast (California) “Lot 2” Merlot NV

 

$20

 

Though fairly full-bodied, this wine feels soft and sumptuous, and displays little tannic astringency.  As a result, it did not seem overly heavy or harsh when paired with this dish.  In fact, its supple character made it very appealing.

 

 

Peter Lehmann, Adelaide (Australia) “Layers White” 2010

(Imported by the Hess Collection)

 

 

$17

 

A mélange of different grape varieties, this wine offers seductive tropical and floral aromas, and flavors reminiscent of sweet, summer fruits.  Because the cream and apple Normande sauce is itself somewhat sweet, those characteristics made the wine very complementary.

 

 

 

Monticillo, Rioja (Spain) Gran Reserva 2001

(Imported by Underdog Wine Merchants)

 

 

 

$25

 

Tasted on its wine, this wine seemed slightly dry and even tired in the finish, but when paired with a dish that is inherently rich and creamy, it gained new life and seemed sumptuous. How a wine tastes on its own often turns out to be very different from how it tastes with food.

 

 

Sonoma-Cutrer, Sonoma Coast (California) Chardonnay 2009

 

 

 

$24

 

We tried another New World Chardonnay in which the influence of oak proved distracting, but this well-balanced, apple-scented one turned out to be a winner.  It’s certainly rich and buttery, and has a sweet, honeyed note in the finish, but it also tastes satisfyingly harmonious, and so made for a very tasty match.