It’s no secret that I didn’t always enjoy living in Nebraska. At the age of sixteen I was especially desperate to escape. My hometown, Kearney, couldn’t even support a decent coffee house back then. What’s a girl to do without her morning fair trade dark roast?
Through the generosity of my parents, and an older sister who paved the way overseas, I was lucky enough to spend a semester studying in the Netherlands. As my plane flew over the Atlantic, I took stock of what I knew about the Dutch, which wasn’t a lot: they were pretty good at art (see: Van Gogh and Vermeer); they wear wooden shoes; and a certain substance currently illegal in the U.S. is, in fact, legal there.
But I didn’t know anything at all about their imperial past. One weekend, early in my stay, my host parents told me we were headed to a barbecue. A tad homesick, I was excited for a taste of home. I imagined the Dutch equivalent of grilled burgers (or at the very least, sausages) with all the traditional fixings, so I was quite surprised when we were served skewered pork and stir-fried noodles.
The Dutch arrived in the Netherlands in the 16th century in search of exotic spices, and when the Dutch East Indies Company went bankrupt in the 1800s, Indonesia became a colony of the Netherlands. Since then, the Dutch have embraced and incorporated exotic Indonesian flavors into their own cuisine. The barbecue was my first taste of two popular Dutch-Indonesian dishes: pork satay and bami goreng.
It’s been a long time since I was 16, but I still crave the warm, enticing flavors of Dutch-Indonesian cuisine. With this in mind, I decided to elevate our usual weeknight pork chop dinner with the flavors of Southeast Asia. Because my palate has evolved since I was 16, this recipe veers towards Thailand. If your community has an Asian market, you should have no trouble finding these ingredients, but if not, I’ve included suggestions for substitutions.
I don’t normally use seasoning blends, preferring to mix my own on the fly, but Penzey’s has created a few that are perfect for weeknight cooking. I especially love Bangkok Blend, a combination of sweet peppers, garlic, ginger, black pepper, galangal, hot peppers, lemongrass, basil and cilantro. The chops are liberally coated with the spice blend, then grilled and served with a Thai-style peanut satay sauce. Spicy Serrano chiles are combined with sweet coconut milk, sour tamarind and creamy peanut butter to create a welcome respite from a traditional, boring weeknight dinner.
Grilled Pork Chops with Spicy Satay Sauce
Weeknight Kitchen: Saucy chops and a spicy foreign exchange
- 4 thick-cut pork chops
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Penzey’s Spice Bangkok Blend (or equivalent spices)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup red onion or shallot, minced
- 1-2 Serrano chiles, minced
- 1-2 teaspoons Thai red chile paste
- For the Satay Sauce:
- ½ cup peanut butter
- ½ cup to 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
- ½ cup lite coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon tamarind paste (if unavailable, use 2 tablespoons lime juice)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce (if unavailable, use another 1 tablespoon soy sauce)
- Zest of 1 lemon (or 1 stalk lemongrass, minced)
- Brown sugar, to taste
- Fresh Thai basil or cilantro, chopped (optional)
- Rinse and dry the pork chops. Coat with a small amount of olive oil and liberally rub with Bangkok Blend and salt.
- For the sauce: heat a saucepan with olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the garlic, onion and Serrano chiles until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the Thai chile paste and sauté an additional minute. Slowly whisk in the peanut butter, coconut milk, ½ cup of the chicken stock, tamarind paste/lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce and lemon zest. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook for approximately 20 minutes.
- While the sauce is simmering, grill the pork chops to desired doneness based on their thickness. Remove from the grill, tent with foil and allow them to rest for at least 5 minutes.
- While the pork is cooking, stir the sauce occasionally, adding more chicken stock as necessary. Taste and adjust your sauce. If you find it too sour, add brown sugar. If you find it too sweet or sour, add soy sauce or fish sauce. If you find it too salty, add more brown sugar, lime juice or tamarind paste.
- When you’re ready to serve, top the pork with a generous amount of spicy satay sauce and garnish with chopped Thai basil or cilantro. Serve with steamed jasmine rice. Close your eyes, take a bite and imagine you’re enjoying a nice dinner somewhere in Southeast Asia instead of your regular weeknight kitchen.