My how time flies. It hardly seems a year since Jess @ Sodium Girl invited me to participate in her 2011 "Love Your Heart Recipe Rally", and I contributed this low salt re-work of a Ming Tsai pork dish. Well, it’s that time again. Time to head back into the kitchen and take a dish that I normally make without regard to sodium content, and re-invent it as a dish that I’d be happy to serve to Jess herself if she were ever to grace our table with her presence....you're always welcome, you know.
You see, about 10 years ago Jessica was diagnosed with Lupus which hit her so hard that it nearly destroyed her kidneys. As a result of her illness, she had to totally rethink her diet, and learn a whole new way of thinking about food and cooking in order to remove sodium from her diet that her kidneys could no longer handle. Since then she has been educating all of us about how to eat in a more heart healthy fashion, cutting sodium to a minimum or even eliminating it entirely.
While we here at Oui, Chef are fortunate not to suffer from a restricting illness like Jess, we are well aware of the benefits of a low sodium diet and really look forward to this challenge as a tool to help us change our eating habits for the better. For those of you haven't yet had your doctor encourage you to ease up on the sodium in your diet, here are a few facts that may get you to sit up and get focused on the topic at hand.
We are a nation that regularly consumes over two times our daily recommended intake of sodium. High sodium consumption raises blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the nation's first and third leading causes of death, respectively. While we only need a small amount of sodium to keep our bodies working properly (between 180 mg-500 mg a day), The Institute of Medicine recommends 1500 mg of sodium per day as an adequate intake level for most Americans, and advises everyone to limit sodium intake to less than 2300 mg per day, what they call the "tolerable upper limit". On average, Americans consume over 3,400 mg a day….OUCH.
Do we have your attention now? Good, let's proceed then.
This year I developed a recipe for the rally that would work equally well with pork and chicken which are two proteins we eat frequently here. To me they are perfect candidates for a low sodium make-over because they are such mildly flavored meats that we normally season them liberally with salt and pepper regardless of how we cook them, in fact I often salt-brine pork and chicken dishes, a technique that is an absolute NO-NO in low-sodium cooking. For this recipe we kept the freshly ground pepper, but eliminated all the added salt in exchange for a one-two punch of an herb “pesto” stuffing, and a lovely blueberry gastrique to be served alongside the chops.
Pestos are probably nothing new for most of you but if you’ve never made a gastrique before, then you are in for a real treat today. Gastriques, which are sweet-sour sauces are frightfully simple to make, naturally sodium-free, and packed with such flavor that they will make even the blandest piece of meat dance in your mouth. Gastriques are really nothing more than some form of sugar cooked with an acid (usually a wine or vinegar), then flavored with fruits, herbs or spices to achieve a desired flavor. For this dish I cooked some sugar and a touch of water to a medium brown caramel, then added some apple cider vinegar and blueberries, and reduced the whole mix to a syrupy consistency, it was SO good.
The combination of a fruit based sauce and an herb paste was a total winner, transforming an otherwise bland piece of meat to real star, and all without the addition of a single grain of salt. As I said before, this recipe would work equally well with chicken or turkey, and you certainly shouldn't feel the need to stick to the pesto and gastrique recipes as written. Sage, cilantro, or arugula would be lovely additions to the pesto, and you can make a gastrique using just about any fruit – spice combo you can dream up. The key here is to let some fresh herbs, citrus and fruit do the heavy lifting of bringing great flavor to your dish while giving salt the night off.
I want to send a BIG thank you out to Jessica for once again including us in her great recipe rally, and also for being such a terrific and encouraging resource for all of us who either need, or just want to live with less sodium in our lives. I encourage you all to check out her great blog, Sodium Girl, and to give some of her recipes a try, your heart will thank you. Click HERE to connect directly to this year's Love Your Heart Recipe Rally post to see the great dishes contributed by other bloggers.
Be Healthy – Steve
- 4 1 to 1 1/2” thick bone-in pork chops
For the pesto:
- 3/4 ounce plastic container (1/2 cup) of fresh tarragon, washed dried and stemmed
- 3/4 ounce plastic container (1/2 cup) of fresh basil, washed dried and stemmed
- 3/4 ounce plastic container (1/2 cup) of fresh mint, washed dried and stemmed
- 3/4 ounce plastic container (1/2 cup) of fresh parsley, washed dried and stemmed
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- Zest of 1 large lemon
- 5-6 tablespoons EVOO
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
- A pinch (1/8 teaspoon) of pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika)
For the gastrique:
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 cups fresh (or frozen and thawed) blueberries
- To make the gastrique measure out the vinegar and keep it handy. Place the sugar and water in a high sided, heavy bottomed pan set over medium high heat. Stir just enough to wet the sugar (it should look like wet sand) then leave it alone to melt and start to caramelize. When the liquid sugar starts to turn color at the edges slowly swirl the pan to evenly distribute the browning sugar. Cook the sugar to a dark amber and pull it from the heat just as it starts to smoke. Moving quickly, tilt the pan away from you and pour in the vinegar. It will splatter and steam like nobody’s business (this is why you want a high-sided pan), so be careful. When it all settles down, place it back over medium heat and scrape any hardened sugar from the bottom of the pan, stirring it to reincorporate it into the vinegar. Add the berries and continue to cook over medium heat until the gastrique is reduced slightly and achieves a syrupy consistency, 5 - 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and keep warm.
- Make the pesto by placing all the herbs, the garlic and a pinch of pimenton in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times till roughly chopped, then with the blade running pour the EVOO through the feed tube and process to a smooth paste. Remove the pesto to a small bowl, add the pine nuts, and zest the lemon into the mix. Stir to incorporate, add a little more pimenton to taste if desired. Set aside.
- Heat the oven to 400℉
- Cut a horizontal slit 4-5 inches long through the center of each chop all the way back to the bone. Season each side of the chop and the inside of the pocket with some freshly ground black pepper. Spoon 1/4 of the pesto mix into each chop spreading it evenly through the pocket. Seal the edge of the pocket with 1 or 2 toothpicks piercing the meat at a diagonal.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot add a glug of canola oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Place the chops in the pan and cook about 5 minutes untouched to caramelize the bottom surface. When nicely browned, flip the chops and move the pan to the oven to finish cooking, about another 7 minutes. Remove the cooked chops to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest at least 5 minutes before serving.
- Serve each chop with a generous spoonful of the gastrique, passing more at the table. Any leftover gastrique will keep well in the fridge for at least a week, probably more like two.