There is something almost primeval about combining food and smoke. Cooking with fire and its attendant smoke links us to our earliest ancestors. Indeed to all our ancestors before the invention of gas and, later, electric stoves. Smoke is why we love hot dogs charred on sticks over campfires. And why, when grilling season rolls around, some of us refuse to cook indoors again until the first snowfall.
But there are simple ways to add the taste of smoke to foods without firing up the grill, some as close as the supermarket shelves. One of our favorites is canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.
Chipotle peppers are actually jalapeño peppers that, instead of being picked green, are allowed to ripen red on the vine, then picked and dried for several days over wood smoke. Dried chipotle peppers can be found whole or ground into powder in Latino markets. Reconstituted chipotle peppers canned in adobo sauce can be found in most supermarkets. The adobo sauce includes peppers of its own, usually ancho chiles, along with tomato, vinegar, garlic, onion and other flavorings.
Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are a versatile tool for adding big smoky flavor and a bit of heat to many dishes and sauces. And a little goes a long way. A 7-ounce can contains several peppers, and I used just two and some of the adobo sauce for this recipe. They keep well in the fridge once opened – just transfer them to an airtight container (I used a small zippered plastic bag). You can also purée or mash extra peppers and sauce and freeze portions in ice cube trays or individual sandwich bags. A generous tablespoon equals about one pepper, with some sauce.
For this recipe, I used the peppers to add some smoke to black beans and red bell pepper – and to help flavor some pork chops. First, I browned the chops, then, after getting the beans going, braised the chops in the bean mixture. It imparted some of the smoky flavor and plenty of the peppers’ beautiful orangey red color to the chops.
You could use the same technique with chicken breasts, tilapia fillets or, for a vegetarian one-pot meal, cubes of extra firm tofu. This was so simple and so delicious, I’m sure we will be trying all of the above before long.
Braised Pork Chops with Chipotle Black Beans
2 bone-in 3/4-inch-thick pork chops, about 1/2 pound each
coarse kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 large red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2 large clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sweet paprika (not smoked)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced + 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1. Dry brine the chops. Sprinkle generously with coarse kosher salt (must be coarse). Let rest for 20 minutes, then rinse chops under cold running water and blot dry with paper towels. (This step is optional, but will help make the chops tender and moist. If you choose to skip dry brining, season chops generously with salt just before cooking, when you season them with pepper.)
2. Sear the chops. Heat oil in a large lidded sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season chops generously with pepper, but don’t add any extra salt (unless you skipped the dry brine – see above). Cook chops on one side until nicely browned, about 4 minutes. Turn chops, reduce heat to medium and cook for about 2 minutes. Transfer chops to a plate and set aside (no need to keep warm – they’ll go back in the pan to finish cooking).
3. Cook the beans. Add onion and red bell pepper to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent and slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Clear a space in the middle of the pan and add garlic, paprika, cumin, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce to pan and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute. Add tomato paste, water, lime juice and sugar and stir until everything is combined. Stir in beans and bring to a boil.
4. Put it all together. Return chops and any accumulated juices to pan, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until chops are cooked through, turning chops a couple of times to coat with pan sauce, about 5 minutes. Spoon beans into two shallow bowls and top with chops. Serve.