Yes, the turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving table. But it’s the supporting cast – the sides – that make us dream of Thanksgiving even in the heat of summer.
We may have enough leftover turkey for a week’s worth of sandwiches. But those potatoes? The casseroles? The vegetables? Gone by Black Friday.
One popular local cook has a great idea to give your table a bit of a southern (or Cajun) accent.
Ron McFarlain and his wife Amy (Martin) McFarlain own and operate Ron’s Cajun Connection, which, during its three iterations, has grown in size but remained in the same general area – at the “four corners” of Utica, where U.S. and Route 178 intersect.
On a recent evening, the couple opened up for a private cooking demonstration of what Ron promised would be a memorable and easy-to-make addition to any Thanksgiving meal — a stuffed pork chop that ended up exceeded its billing.
In less time than it’ll take Bears fans to lose faith in Mitch Trubisky against the Lions next Thursday, the mouth-watering aroma of Ron’s concoction will compete with what the bird is offering. And the sizzle may drown out the game.
First, an overview. This dish can act as a side or as an entrée of its own at any other cold-weather dinner. You’ll make it in three parts -- meat, stuffing, gravy. And everything you’ll need is available at most area supermarkets. This description (real cooks don’t follow “recipes,” right?) is good for two stuffed pork chops.
Stuffed Pork Chops
Two medium-sized (approximately eight-ounce), inch-thick chop with the bone along the edge. The T-bone chops, Ron says, make things more difficult when it comes time to stuff the meat.
A pound of ground breakfast sausage
½ an onion, cut up if you prefer
1 celery stalk, chopped
¼ pepper, chopped
Low- or no-sodium harvest seasoning
A bag of herb stuffing of your choice
A bag of country-style gravy of your choice
Butter and chicken stock if you choose
Start with the stuffing: Part of this creation is customized, and part follows the standard recipe on the bag of herb stuffing of your choice. Like most pros, Ron works from memory and experience. After preheating the oven to 400 degrees, turn to the stovetop. Pour a glug of water into a pan and add about a half-pound of sausage for each chop. Use a firm metal whisk to break up the meat nicely. Stir in the vegetables, adding water as you see fit. Now comes the more formal part. Follow the directions on the stuffing bag. Add three servings of the bagged stuffing to the pork in the pan, dropping in butter or chicken stock, too, if you like.
Now for the meat: With a sharp knife, carefully cut lengthwise through the pork chops, all the way to the bone. You’re essentially creating a pocket for the stuffing. Once the stuffing is done, fill the pocket. “Reallllly stuff it in there. Stuff it good,” Ron says, in his Lake Charles, Louisiana accent. Fold the pocket closed (if possible). Use non-stick spray on a pan, add the newly-stuffed chops, and sprinkle the meat with low- or no-sodium harvest seasoning. Cook the chops for a total of about 30 minutes at 400 degrees, or until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Carefully turn them over halfway through, and add more harvest seasoning to the other sides.
Get to the gravy: Follow the stovetop cooking directions on the bag of country-style gravy of your choice. Add cold water as necessary and black pepper to taste, stirring frequently, as the gravy thickens in the pan.
Drizzle the gravy over the cooked chops and get to work.
Engaging, generous hosts, as his chops heated up, Ron and Amy walked visitors through the fun elements of their place, from the stuffed alligator in the dining room to the 16-foot-long, lovingly restored bar they salvaged from the former Duffy’s Tavern in Utica.
What about the alligator on the menu? He showed off that, too, ready to be prepared for anyone hungry for what Ron says is one of the more difficult dishes he makes.
Does he ever create anything just for himself and Amy? Sure. His crawfish etouffee is something special they keep to themselves.
The aroma of the pork chops in the oven told him they were done. And when it came time to sample his work, it was clear he’d created something delicious, and in record time. As a reporter looked almost longingly at the untouched second chop, Ron seemed to read his mind.
“That one’s for Amy and me,” he said with a smile and a gleam in his eye. “You see, today’s our anniversary.”
A true Southern gentleman, all the way.