Every recipe has a backstory. Here’s how pork chops cooked on a bed of mushrooms with cotija cheese came to be:
Like most great dishes, inspiration didn’t manifest, it accumulated, beginning, innocuously, with the purchase of two, thick-cut, bone-in pork chops. Something to have on-hand for dinner. But, rather than cook the pork chops, my husband Jason and I went out to dinner at DC’s newly-opened El Rey taqueria. The queso con hongos tacos, filled with rich, earthy mushrooms and crumbly cotija cheese were delicious. We ordered a second round.
The next day I thought, “I really should cook those pork chops before they go bad. I wonder how they’d taste with cotija and mushrooms?” Remembering a Silver Palate cookbook recipe for chicken cooked on a bed of mushrooms, I scanned it briefly for technique and roasting temperature.
The first attempt: since I planned to cover the roasting dish with foil, I browned the pork chops first in a pan. Then promptly ignored my own fabulous advice about cooking mushrooms in batches to avoid crowding the pan. The result? A baking dish filled with a soupy layer of wilted mushrooms topped with seared pork chops . We agreed the dish was worth repeating, but that most of the flavor ended up in the liquid in the bottom of the baking dish. We also thought the thick-cut chops got a little thin on flavor toward the center.
The second attempt: A quick and painless brine for the pork chops added all the flavor we needed. Cooking the mushrooms in batches until golden-brown on the edges minimized the broth in the baking dish. Increasing the scallion greens and cilantro from a garnish to a solid sprinkling provided a welcome fresh balance to the earthy mushrooms, sweet, mild pork and the light tang of the cheese.
It’s a winner. I wonder if it would make a good taco?
Baked Pork Chops And Mushrooms With Cotija
- 1/2 cup kosher or sea salt
- 4 thick-cut, bone-in pork chops
- 2 cups chicken stock, boiling
- 1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
- 3-5 tbs olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 scallions, white and green parts chopped separately
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1.5 lbs crimini mushrooms, sliced
- 2 tbs dried epazote or oregano
- 2 tbs chili powder, like guajillo
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 cup crumbled cotija cheese, or feta
- Dissolve salt in 8-10 cups cold water. Add pork chops to brine and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, up to 2 hours.
- Pour boiling stock over mushrooms. Let sit for 20 minutes. When reconstituted, strain liquid through a paper-towel lined sieve, reserving the liquid. Rinse mushrooms clean and chop finely.
- Preheat oven to 375.
- Drain and rinse pork chops. Pat dry and season both sides with salt and pepper.
- Warm 1 tbs oil in a 12” skillet over med-high heat. Brown pork in two batches, about 3 minutes per side. Add an additional tablespoon of oil for second batch if needed. Reserve, tented with foil.
- Add 2 tbs more oil to pan, reduce heat to medium. Add onion and scallion whites. Cook until softened. Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer.
- Add mushrooms to pan in a single, thin layer, about half of them. Cook until mushrooms begin to brown on edges. Reserve mushrooms.
- Return pan to heat, and add an additional tablespoon of oil. Add remaining mushrooms and cook until edges are golden brown. Return reserved mushrooms, along with chopped porcinis to pan. Add reserved porcini liquid and cook until reduced and thickly coating mushrooms.
- Season mushroom mixture with epazote, chile powder, and 1/4 cup cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Place mushrooms in bottom of 9” square or 9 x 11″ baking dish. Top with pork chops and cheese. Cover with foil and bake at 375 until done, about 20 minutes.
- Serve topped with scallion greens and remaining cilantro.