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 fruits 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. Cutaway 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.
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Pastured Pork Chops with Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit Reduction
brPrep time: 30 mins
brInactive prep time: 12 hoursbrCook time: 30 minsbr
4 thick-cut pastured pork chops
1⁄2 cup salt
brFreshly ground black pepper
br4 tbsp olive oilbr
For prickly pear cactus fruit reduction:
2 tbsp butter
br2 tbsp olive oil
br1⁄4 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup red prickly pear cactus fruit, freshlybrjuiced (approximately 4 cactus fruit)br
1/2 cup high-quality balsamic vinegarbr1 cup fresh basil, diced
brsalt and pepper to taste
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Brine pork chops: Dissolve abrhalf cup of sea salt in a largebrpot. Submerge pork chops inbrsalt water, cover, and let soakbrin refrigerator overnight.
Preheat grill to 400°F. Removebrchops from brine and pat dry.brAllow chops to reach roombrtemperature and coat with olivebroil and pepper. Grill chops onbrdirect heat for 2 to 3 minutes onbreach side, until well seared. Movebrto indirect heat and continuebrcooking for another 20 minutes,bror until internal temperaturebrreaches 140 degrees. Removebrfrom heat and let sit at roombrtemperature for 5 minutes to rest.
While pork chops are cooking,brusing a knife and tongs,brcarefully remove the skins of
br4 large cactus fruit. Place thebrpeeled fruit into a cheeseclothbrand squeeze rendered juicebrinto a measuring cup untilbrdesired 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.