OK, she threw the parties and I helped with the cooking. Our go-to entree was veal scaloppini. I liked it no matter how we cooked it. At the time it seemed so fancy. Now I realize that it was all about the sauce. In its velvety blandness, veal really is little more than an excuse for sauce, a cake in search of frosting.
This recipe substitutes pork chops for veal. A generation ago, this switcheroo wouldn't have worked; the chops would have been too rich and fatty. But modern-day engineering has turned pork chops into that other white meat. They have very little fat and, consequently, very little flavour. Fat is a conductor of flavour, as well as a provider of moisture.
Accordingly, one of today's standard-issue supermarket pork chops is nearly as suitable as veal as a vehicle for sauce — and it's cheaper, too.
Fine, you say, but isn't it going to take me a ton of time and effort to make a good sauce? Not necessarily. There are, of course, a world of sauces to choose from, and many of them are indeed big productions. But pan sauces, as I discovered during my restaurant days, are speedy to make, and that's what this recipe calls for.
A pan sauce is built from the concentrated bits of juice left in the bottom of a skillet after you've seared a protein. Transforming those flavourful little nuggets into a sauce requires nothing more intricate than dissolving them with the aid of a liquid, usually wine and stock, and adding some extra flavour, often in the form of sauteed shallots or onions. This template works not just for pork, but for all thin cuts of chicken, lamb, veal and beef.
Still, you're going to want to thicken this sauce. If I were working with a home-made chicken stock, this wouldn't be a problem. But I'm trying to get dinner on the table on a weeknight, so I typically use store-bought chicken broth, which lacks the gelatin that thickens a sauce.
What to do? Coat the chops with flour, preferably Wondra, an instant flour that Granny used to use. It will not only thicken the sauce, but keep the meat from drying out even as it provides a crisper crust than regular all-purpose flour. Good old Wondra will also come in handy when you're making pan gravy at Thanksgiving because it's been formulated not to lump up.
The big flavour in this sauce comes from the grapes and the mustard. I never knew how "grapey" a grape could be until I first made sole Veronique — sole served in a cream sauce with peeled (!) green grapes — in cooking school. You'll see for yourself. Though we've skipped the pesky peeling part.
Pure pleasure aside, grapes are also a terrific source of resveratrol, the powerful antioxidant found in wine. So, in one quick, economical and widely adaptable recipe you get big flavour, good health and a pan gravy. Maybe that's pretty fancy after all.
SAUTEED PORK CHOPS AND GRAPES WITH MUSTARD SAUCE
Start to finish: 25 minutes
Four 1/2-inch-thick boneless pork chops (about 1 pound total), trimmed of any fat
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Wondra flour, for dredging the pork chops
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 cup seedless red or green grapes, halved
1/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Season the pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper. One at a time, dip the pork chops in the flour, coating them well on both sides, but shaking off the excess.
In a large skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the chops to the pan and cook until lightly browned on the first side, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining oil to the skillet, turn the chops and cook for 1 minute on the second side. Transfer them to a plate and cover loosely with foil.
Add the onion and grapes to the skillet, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until the onions are golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Increase the heat to high, add the wine and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring, until the wine is reduced to 1 tablespoon. Add the stock and sugar and simmer until the broth is reduced by half.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, return the pork to the skillet, along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate and simmer very gently, turning the pork several times, for 1 minute. Transfer each pork chop to a serving plate. Add the mustard to the sauce, whisking, then season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce evenly over each portion and serve right away.
Nutrition information per serving: 280 calories; 100 calories from fat (36 per cent of total calories); 11 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 17 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 26 g protein; 660 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."