Fantastic Meals. Number 96 of the Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of all Time.
I’ve been trying — for two months — to write about recipe Number 96 — Ron’s Southern-Fried Pork Chops (Ron is not his real name). It’s been one difficult affair. There are two reasons. The first is because I became (perhaps, I still am) addicted to eBay. I’d never fooled with eBay before, and on September 15th, once I stuck my foot in the door, I couldn’t pull it back. I mean — the thrill of selling something and making five dollars. Wow. You may ask how in the hell can making five bucks be enjoyable? You know why? Because it’s more than I’d have made selling the same article at a Yard Sale, that’s why. I detest Yard Selling. No one at a Yard Sale wants to pay more than a dollar for anything. So when I found out I could make five bucks selling the same item on eBay — I was addicted in about ten seconds. And this will tell you more about me than you want to know — once I try something and really enjoy it, that’s all I want to do. I’m an A-B-C type of person, which to my wife means I go rigidly from one step to another. I don’t like to skip around, I don’t enjoy doing several things at the same time, and I despise having to put item C in front of item B. Because of my personality defect, I wrote nothing when I was getting up at three in the morning to see what I sold the night before. But I have reformed. Thus, with a hope that you’ll forgive my lapse, I shall try to be an A-B-c type of person, the “A” standing for my twin careers of Remodeling and Writing, the “B” for Blogging, and the little “c” standing for my time on eBay. It’ll be tough, but my dad was a Marine. I can do it.
The second reason I haven’t tended to my Blogs, especially “500 Reasons,” is more serious, a bit darker. It’s because I can find no way to put a light spin on thisrecipe’s background, no way to tell the story behind the meal without unloading a downer on you. It’s a sad story, and I don’t like sad stories. I refuse to watch sad movies — more than once, anyway. I’ve seen the films Love Story, The Titanic, and Griffin and Phoenix (I cried for thirty minutes when this film hit me with its ending. Good Lord, what a surprise downer.). But I’ve never seen any of these movies a second time. I mean — Love Story is dated, I didn’t like The Titanic, and I simply don’t have the courage to go through Griffin and Phoenix again. The damn movie pulls at me, but — so far — I’ve resisted it. When I finish with 100 Meals and start on 100 Movies, we’ll see what I do when I get to Griffin and Phoenix. The easiest thing will be to leave it out of my Top 100. Can I?
I do agree that sad movies and books (but not meals!) have a place in our lives. Identifying with the pain of unrequited love, the loneliness of being spurned, or the void left in our hearts after a loved one dies, is meant to show us the reality of life. These sad moments are supposed to inure us to the fact that life is not all happiness. I say, “Nuts!”
The reality of life is that there isn’t enough laughter, enough slapstick, enough singing-out-loud joy in the world. I believe we should do all we can to add to the small kettle of happiness we have, every moment we’re alive. To not do so will only make us sadder. And, dammit, I hate being sad. Relating the following events makes me sad, however, and that’s why I stopped halfway through it. I shall continue. Now. Right now.
To tell you about Ron’s pork chop recipe, I must begin the day before I hired him, more than twenty years ago. A company I owned was building an addition to a house inMontgomery. Under a huge canopy of magnificent live oaks and magnolias, we were installing the roof decking and the shingles. I had subcontracted this work out to the roofers Ron was working for. They had sent one carpenter and three roofers to accomplish the work, and I could see no way the reedy, long-haired, Vietnamese carpenter could stay ahead of the roofers. I was a carpenter myself, and knew how difficult it was to install decking, but by-golly, the young Vietnamese was a whirlwind, a dynamo. He tossed around full sheets of 5/8” plywood like they were sacks of stone-ground grits. Let me tell you — 5/8” plywood is not for the weak. It’s heavy and cumbersome. Ron was so strong and so well-versed in what he needed to do, he ran far ahead of the three roofers. I was impressed.
The night after the roof was finished, I got a phone call from Ron’s wife. She asked me if I’d noticed the Vietnamese carpenter on the roofing job, and I told her I had. She then asked me if I could hire the man, as he was her husband, and she was speaking for him because his English wasn’t very good. The roofing job was part-time, and he needed a full-time job. The roofers were her brothers, and they only used him occasionally, so I wouldn’t be hiring him away from them. I told her that if he showed up at my office at seven in the morning, he was hired. He was there at 6:30. I never regretted hiring Ron. He was one of the best workers I’ve ever had.
Ron worked hard, learned what he didn’t know fast, and always showed up. On time.
Back then, being typical construction workers, we were in the habit of having a company party whenever an occasion arose, such as any type of holiday, or sometimes, just because it was Friday. We couldn’t afford to take off from work, but we could throw a company party afterwards, meaning, “drink a bunch of beer.” When we’d have these parties, Ron always attended, but he did it his way. He’d go home first, grab a dish of food he’d cooked up the night before, and bring it to us. Then he’d ask for permission to leave. Ron, unlike the rest of us, was more interested in going home to tend to his children than he was in drinking beer. We had no desire to force him to stay because he’d tell us his kids (five of them) needed him, especially his crippled daughter. He’d leave us a huge platter of food and depart. We were always amazed that he never even drank a beer — not one.
Ron always brought one of two dishes — either Chicken & Noodles or Fried Pork Chops. They were both wonderful, with exotic flavors I’d never tried. I made sure to get the recipes, of course, because cooking them, myself, was important to me. I wanted to share these delights with my entire family. In fact, my kids grew up calling one of our favorite dinners, “Ron’s Chicken.”
The reason I’m sad while relating this dish to you is because Ron is in prison. He’s there for the rest of his life. For about twenty years now, I’ve sent Ron a $25.00 money order every month of my life. It’s not much, though there have been times I could barely afford it. It’s more than giving charity, or giving aid to a former employee, though it is both of those. It’s also a payback for the recipes Ron gave me. Don’t misunderstand me. I do not doubt for a minute that my ex-employee deserves to spend the rest of his life in jail. But the circumstances — the events leading up to why he’s in jail — are not only vastly interesting, they’d require at least 30 pages to properly tell in the manner needed. I don’t have space for that here. So, without further adieu, and without going into the reason my employee/friend/fellow cook is in prison, here is “Ron’s Southern-Fried Pork Chops.” Since Ron was from South Vietnam, I can legitimately call them “Southern-Fried.”
Note that some ingredients must marinate for ½-2 hours. You will need a stir-fry pan or large frying pan to cook this meal. Also, keep in mind that when you cook using fish sauce, the kitchen will stink. I mean, really stink. The food, however, will taste much better than the air smells, so don’t give up when the odor hits you. It’s similar to cooking chitlin’s. Ha-ha. Who cooks chitlin’s any more? Who, besides me, has ever dared cook chitlin’s in their own kitchen? But that’s another story.
- 2-4 pork chops, cut into bite-sized pieces or whole.
- 1/3 cup fish sauce (made from anchovies — found in Asian section of food stores).
- 1 and 3/4 cups water.
- 2 onions, chopped.
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons canola oil.
- Small head of cabbage, chopped.
- 1 tablespoon sugar.
- 1 teaspoon Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning.
- Extra water, if needed.
- 1-4 tablespoons soy sauce.
Place pork chops (I cut mine up; Ron left his whole), one cup of the water, the fish sauce, and onions in a glass container and marinate ½-2 hours, shaking or stirring now and then. Drain.
When meat and onions have marinated, put sesame and canola oils in large frying pan and turn heat to high; just before oil reaches spattering stage, add drained pork and onions.
Add remaining ingredients and the other 3/4 cup of water, mix, and stir fry for five-to-seven minutes (if using whole chops, turn at this point); cook for 10 more minutes, stirring, or moving chops around. If pan becomes too dry, add extra water.
Remove from heat; drain if soggy; place in bowl and add soy sauce.
And pray for Ron. Pray for me, too. Lord knows, I don’t need your prayers as much as Ron does, but I do need them.