Pastured Pork Chops with Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit Reduction04/16/2021 09:42AM ● By Kayla Butts
By: Kayla & Justin Butts Photos by: Rachel Benavides
To prepare a truly authentic and original dish, sometimes you have to hunt for your ingredients.
You must hunt for prickly pear cactus fruit in the wild, because it only grows in the sun-soaked desert. Begin your hunt soon; these fruit are ripe only through the end of September.
Cactus fruit favors the bold: you must brave thorns, rattlesnakes, and the burning sun to gather your harvest. But if you have a taste for adventure, you will fall in love with this sweet scarlet fruit.
Your hunt may even become a tradition, as it was for the Native American Indians of South Texas. For thousands of years, local Indians survived the long hot summers on the fruit of the prickly pear.
To avoid the thorns, use tongs to pluck the ripe fruit from the cactus. Cut away the skin to reveal the crimson pulp. This pulp makes an intensely sweet and tangy reduction--the perfect complement to the saltiness of your pastured pork chops.
Pastured pork chops are very different from the conventional chops you find at the supermarket. These porkers are raised in the forests and fields of local farms, which is how they acquire the designation “pastured”.
Pastured porkers slowly develop a rich flavor as they fatten on native forage—acorns, roots, vegetables, and grains. The famous Iberian pork of Spain is raised in the same manner.
Your pastured chops are dry-aged to intensify their flavor and tenderness, and thickly cut to retain their moisture while developing a nice sear on the grill.
You can find your pastured chops from farmers at the South Side or Downtown Farmers’ Markets in Corpus Christi. And you must find your cactus fruit in the wild.
But once you have your ingredients in hand, your work as a chef is mostly done. All you need is the heat of the grill to unlock the natural flavors of a feast your friends and family will not soon forget.
This dish is local and completely original. It is the fruit of a good hunt. It is the pure distilled flavor of our own land—and The Bend never tasted so good.
Pastured Pork Chops with Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit Reduction
Prep time: 30 mins
Inactive prep time: 12 hours Cook time: 30 mins
4 thick-cut pastured pork chops
1⁄2 cup salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
For prickly pear cactus fruit reduction:
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1⁄4 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup red prickly pear cactus fruit, freshly juiced (approximately 4 cactus fruit)
1/2 cup high-quality balsamic vinegar
1 cup fresh basil, diced
salt and pepper to taste
Brine pork chops: Dissolve a half cup of sea salt in a large pot. Submerge pork chops in salt water, cover, and let soak in refrigerator overnight.
Preheat grill to 400°F. Remove
chops from brine and pat dry.
Allow chops to reach room
temperature and coat with olive
oil and pepper. Grill chops on
direct heat for 2 to 3 minutes on
each side, until well seared. Move
to indirect heat and continue
cooking for another 20 minutes,
or until internal temperature
reaches 140 degrees. Remove
from heat and let sit at room
temperature for 5 minutes to rest.
While pork chops are cooking,
using a knife and tongs,
carefully remove the skins of
4 large cactus fruit. Place the peeled fruit into a cheesecloth and squeeze rendered juice into a measuring cup until desired volume is reached.
Heat butter and olive oil over medium heat in a medium-sized sauce pan. Add onion and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (approximately 1 minute). Add prickly pear fruit juice and balsamic vinegar to pan. Once boiling, reduce heat and continue to simmer until sauce is thickened and its volume has been reduced by half. Add salt and pepper, as desired. Remove from heat and add fresh basil. Drizzle reduction over grilled pork chops. Serve.