Apple Smoked Pork Chops with De-Mystified Cast Iron Quinoa and Florida Sweet Corn
I have been on quite the quinoa kick lately and find it to be a delicious and healthy addition to a meal. Quinoa is a blank canvass. If you don’t paint various layers of flavor into the dish, it will be flavorless and boring. I have found that the rice cooker is a great way to make quinoa. It’s basically 2 parts liquid to 1 part quinoa and set the cooker to make white rice. Today, I tried a different adaptation doing quinoa on the grill in a flat bottom dutch oven. There are some variables and inconsistencies you encounter when making stove top type dishes on your grill. The most common obstacle is temperature regulation. I made this dish over lump charcoal which is much more challenging to regulate than a gas grill so I needed to make sure my cast iron vessel was pre-heated before I began the cooking process. My dome temperature on the egg was stabilized at 325 and I figured that would account for about a 50 degree temperature fluctuation while I had the dome open. A good litmus for temperature on cast iron is a sprinkling of a few droplets of water on to the cooking surface. If the droplets quickly boil off and evaporate, you are probably up to temperature. Subsequently, if they take 4 to 5 seconds or more to disappear, you may want to continue the preheating for a few more minutes. I dropped a good chunk of butter in the dutch, and began to sweat down my garlic, shallots, and sweet onion with some salt & cracked black pepper. That was followed up with some crimini mushrooms. I always like to let the crimini mushrooms caramelize a bit if possible as I feel this adds additional flavor to a dish. The mushrooms will also soak up any saute liquids at this point. As the veggies came together, I added orange bell peppers to saute with the others. For additional flavor, I added a can of medium heat salsa found in the latin section at the grocery store. This also works nicely as a wet ingredient so I compensated by using 25% less liquid. Ideally, I will use a low sodium or homemade chicken stock as my liquid ingredient but today it was just water. I added the dry quinoa, gave it all a stir, and got on with cooking the pork.
I added apple wood chips to the charcoal before the pork chops hit the grill. I purposely left the cover off of the dutch oven so some of the smokey flavor would be imparted into the simmering quinoa. The chops smoked away for about an hour @ 300 degrees getting flipped half way thru. Half way into the cook, I put 2 ears of corn on the egg husk and all toward the edge of the cooker. By now, the quinoa had absorbed almost all of the liquid and cracked to resemble an seed with an early sprout. I pulled the dutch oven off and took a temperature reading on the pork chop. Even though 145 is now an acceptable temperature for cooking pork, I do like to go a little more than that. Mine was at 167 which was a little high, but it still looked juicy. I seared off some zucchini and yellow squash which had marinated in italian dressing and then diced it and added it to the quinoa. The corn after grilling for a half hour just seems to fall out of it’s husk and is a wonderfully cooked al-dente. Whatever the method you chose to try, I encourage you to think outside the norm and add some quinoa to your quiver of side dishes. After a few tries, it can quickly become the main event!