Dinnertime at my house was never a surprise. My parents cooked a solid rotation of Italian, Spanish and Polish peasant dishes that were always preceded by a simple salad of iceberg lettuce, radishes, tomatoes and sliced “Bermuda” onion, as my mother called them. (Anchovy and Feta cheese were served on the side. My father and I always opted in.)
Everything was served on the bone - including fish. Most of the meals were one-pot soups or stews. Sometimes we had steak. My mother even dabbled in wok cooking for awhile when it was fashionable in the 1980s. But whatever we ate we had eaten before. There were standards in the rotation. All of them were delicious. And we never deviated.
My father and brother visited me in Providence, RI, a few months after I moved there for my first post-college newspaper job. It was a great visit. We drank in American Legion halls, took a sheet pan of paella via taxi to a Halloween party where we wore togas, and cooked some great meals in my studio apartment. Which is to say my father and brother cooked. I had yet to take up the skillet.
I came home from the newsroom one night to a meal prepared by my father that I’d never seen before and haven't seen since. He’d braised bone-in pork chops in a tomato sauce with black olives. It was beautiful. It was fabulous. And now he swears he doesn’t remember making it, much less how he made it.
My guess is he and my brother had a few refreshments and cobbled a dinner together from whatever I had in the fridge. While I was writing a late obit in the newsroom they likely took the basic principals of searing and braising and made a masterpiece.
Had I been interested in cooking at the time I would have quizzed the Old Man about the dish. But I wasn’t. And I didn’t. So, I’m going to try to recreate it now that 20 years and a lot of kitchen experience has filled the gap.
Here’s my best interpretation of Manny’s Providence Pork Chops.
Three bone-in pork chops, about 1” thick
Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
2 tbsp canola oil
2 pats butter
1 Spanish onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp smoked paprika
1/2 cup black olives
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat oil and butter in a large iron skillet over medium-high heat. Sear pork chops (in batches if necessary) until brown on both sides. Remove pork chops.
Drain all but 2 tbsp of fat from pan. Add onions and reduce heat to medium. Cook until soft, about five minutes.
Add garlic and cook, stirring often, for five minutes or until soft.
Add paprika and cook a few minutes until mixed into the onion and garlic. Be careful. Paprika burns fast.
Add broth and tomatoes and cook for five minutes.
Add pork chops and olives. Turn a few times to coat in the sauce before sliding the pan into the oven.
After 15 minutes flip chops. Cook another 15.
Let rest at least 15 minutes. Sprinkle parsley over everything and serve.
Portuguese Steak Burger
The thing about a Portuguese dinner is the double starch. I’m talking about potato-chip cut potatoes deep-fried until they become scalloped French fries, if you will, sitting alongside a mound of fluffy white rice. Not risotto. No pilaf. Just perfectly cooked white rice so tender and singular that you could eat them one grain at a time. Onto this carb carnival they layer fried red bell pepper strips.
And then IT happens. A grilled New York strip steak is nestled next to the fries and rice. And when I say “grilled” I’m not talking about some restaurant kitchen shortcut with a skillet and some butter. This steak has never seen a sauté pan. It was grilled. With love. Over actual flames. And as if THAT’S not good enough, an off-the-bone slice of ham is seared and set on top the steak. Then a perfect over easy egg. Then a garlic and beer sauce flecked with minced parsley or cilantro.
I can’t match or top that tsunami of awesome. So I thought about making it into a burger. To wit:
I’d like to recreate the experience of local Portuguese Steak in a burger. To me, the ham and egg on top of the steak is the obvious reference. But jut as important is the roasted red pepper and garlic sauce. (As is the rice, but I’m guessing no one would want to order a burger with a side of rice.) Anyway, here’s my take on a Portuguese Steak burger.
Dress bottom bun with roasted red pepper aioli
Add one layer of fried potato chips (1/8” thick)
Grill an aggressively-peppered ground beef burger (1/4lb at least)
Sao Jorge cheese on top.
Slice of fried ham
Over easy egg
Dress top bun with roasted garlic spread
The nice thing about being a reporter is you get to explore for a living. When I moved to Rhode Island for my first real newspaper gig in 1995 I knew next to nothing about the state. With each assignment I learned something new. Some of those discoveries were delicious. Like this one.
One cornish hen, butterflied