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Escarole is mostly thought of as a salad green, but like most greens, it’s capable of so much more than that. In this recipe, a hint of vinegar, a pat of butter and a scant drizzle of maple syrup turn escarole into a warm side dish that’s perfect with pork. It’s a bold medley of sweet, salty and pleasantly bitter flavors.
The bitter flavor of escarole can be a “love it” or “hate it” thing. This recipe is meant to woo both sides. The bitterness is still noticeable, but tamed by a magic combination of pork, butter and maple.
The chops are seasoned with Chinese Five Spice, giving the pork both a little heat and the sweet aromatic flavor of cinnamon, cloves and fennel. The butter and maple syrup further balance out the bitter flavor of the escarole, but you don’t have to add maple syrup to make this dish great. Skip it, and you’ll still have a delicious meal with bold flavor.
A very large head of escarole wilts down to four small servings when cooked. Plan to serve another side with the meal, or, if you really love escarole, cook two heads instead of one.
Time in the Kitchen: 35 minutes
Preheat the oven to 350 ºF (176 ºC).
Take the pork chops out of the refrigerator so they come to room temperature. Season both sides of the pork chops with Chinese Five Spice, salt and black pepper.
Cut the bottom stem off the escarole and wash the leaves well since they tend to hold dirt.
Before or after washing the leaves, tear them into bite-sized pieces. Ideally the leaves should be as dry as possible before cooking them. A salad spinner works well for this.
Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil (or coconut oil, or a combination of olive oil and butter). When the oil is nice and hot add the chops, searing for 3 minutes without moving them. Flip the chops and sear for 1 minute more then put the pan in the oven.
Start checking the chops after 3 minutes to gauge if they’re done. The temperature in the thickest part of the chop should be around 140 ºF. (60 ºC).
Remove the chops from the skillet and set the meat aside. Put the skillet back on the stove over medium-high heat and immediately add the vinegar.
As it boils scrape the bits of meat up off the bottom of the skillet. The vinegar will quickly evaporate – when it’s evaporated by at least half and almost gone add the butter.
Swirl it around the skillet, when it’s mostly melted add the maple syrup.
Add the escarole. It probably won’t all fit in the skillet at once. Let the first batch wilt a little bit, then add the rest. Sauté, stirring frequently, for 5 to 8 minutes until the leaves are tender but not totally limp. Overcooked escarole tends to be soggy or even slimy, so get it out of the skillet sooner rather than later.
Finish the pork and escarole with a sprinkle of sea salt.