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Eric Akis: Plum sauce infuses pork cutlets with Asian flavour

Take advantage of in-season prune plums to create sauce that works well with many dishes
Panko-crusted Pork Cutlets with Asian-style Plum Sauce Golden, fried, panko-crusted pork cutlets served with a sweet-and sour-tasting plum sauce.

I bought some boneless pork loin chops for dinner the other day and thought I would bread, fry and serve them with some form of apple sauce. But I switched gears not long after when blessed with some prune plums from my neighbour’s tree.

Those purple plums, which are also sold at grocery stores, would also be good in a sauce, I thought. When I thought of plums and sauce the first thing that came to mind was the plum sauce served in Chinese restaurants, often with egg rolls. I was sure it would also go well with pork, so I made a homemade version of it.

To make that sauce, I halved, pitted and cubed some of those plums and set them in a pot with such things as soy sauce, garlic, brown sugar, vinegar and five-spice powder. The latter is a Chinese-style, intensely flavoured, aromatic, ground spice mixture, sold at many grocery stores and at Asian food stores, that blends star anise, fennel seeds, Szechuan peppercorns, cloves and cinnamon.

The plum mixture in the pot was then gently simmered, puréed, and then simmered a little longer, until a thickened, sweet and sour, mildly spicy plum sauce formed. The sauce did indeed work well with my pork loin chops that I pounded into cutlets, breaded in panko, coarse Japanese-style bread crumbs, and fried until golden and cooked through.

The plum sauce recipe yields about one and half cups, more than you’ll need for the panko-crusted pork cutlets. But the leftover over sauce could be frozen for another time. The plum sauce recipe could be doubled or further expanded if you want to make a bigger batch of it for your freezer.

Beyond the plum sauce, I also served the pork cutlets with steamed rice, steamed florets of broccoli and an Asian-style slaw, accented with fresh ginger, chopped peanuts and sesame oil. It was very flavourful Sunday dinner.

Panko-crusted Pork Cutlets with Asian-style Plum Sauce

Boneless pork loin chops, pounded, coated with panko, fried until golden, plated and served with a sweet and sour tasting homemade plum sauce.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: six to eight minutes

Makes: two servings (see Eric options)

4 small (about 2 1/2 to 3 oz./70 to 85g) boneless pork loin chops

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 large egg

2 Tbsp milk

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1 cup panko

• vegetable oil, for frying

• Asian-style Plum Sauce (see recipe below)

Pat chops dry with paper towel. Trim some of the fat off each chop if it’s overly thick. Now, with a sharp knife, make a few slits into the fat/rind side of each chop. This should prevent the chops from curling up when they cook.

Set one of the chops on a work surface. Cover with a double layer of plastic wrap. Using a kitchen hammer, pound the chop until it’s about 1/4-inch thick, then set on a plate. Pound the other chops this way. Season the pork with salt and pepper.

Place egg and milk in a bowl large enough to dunk the pork in and beat to combine. Place flour and panko in separate wide plates. Set out a baking sheet to place the pork on once coated.

Coat one pork chop in the flour. Dip it in the egg mixture, evenly coating it. Coat the pork in panko, thickly pressing it on. Set coated pork chop on the baking sheet. Coat the remaining pork chops in this fashion.

Preheat a non-stick, electric griddle to 350 F, or set a large cast iron griddle over medium heat (see Eric’s options). Coat the surface of the griddle with vegetable oil.

When oil is hot, set the panko-crusted pork cutlets on the griddle and cook about three to four minutes per side, until golden and cooked through. (Keep a close eye on the pork and lower the heat if it overly darkens as it cooks.)

Set two cutlets on each of two dinner plates. Dollop some of the plum sauce beside the cutlets, and then serve.

Eric’s options: If you’d prefer smaller portions of meat, buy four larger boneless pork loin chops, each about four ounces/113 grams, and only serve one per portion. If you do that, this recipe will yield four portions. If you don’t have a griddle, you could fry the pork cutlets in a large non-skillet in two batches, if needed, keeping the first ones you cooked warm in 200 F until the rest are cooked.

Asian-style Plum Sauce

Sweet and sour, mildly spicy, Asian-style plum sauce made from fresh BC prune plums. Serve the sauce with the panko-crusted pork cutlets and other foods it would work with, such as egg rolls, tempura prawns and chicken strips.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: about 30 to 35 minutes

Makes: about 1 1/2 cups

1 pound prune plums (about 6 to 9, depending on size), halved, pitted and cut in 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 1/4 cups of cubed plums)

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup water

2 Tbsp cider vinegar or rice vinegar

2 tsp soy sauce

1 medium garlic clove, minced

1/2 tsp five-spice powder

1 tsp sriracha or other smooth hot chili sauce

• salt to taste

Place all ingredients, except salt, in a small pot (mine was 6-inches wide). Set over medium heat and bring to gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Adjust heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer. Simmer plum mixture 20 minutes. Purée the plum mixture in the pot with an immersion (hand) blender, or transfer the mixture to a food processor, purée it there, and then return to the pot.

Set the puréed plum mixture back over the heat, return to a gentle simmer, and simmer five to 10 minutes more, or until a thickened plum sauce forms. Taste sauce and season with salt, to taste.

Cool sauce to room temperature, and then transfer to a tight-sealing container and refrigerate until needed. Sauce will keep several days in the refrigerator; it can also be frozen, to later thaw and use at another time.

Asian-style Slaw

This slaw you can serve with the pork cutlets is flavoured Asian-style with such things as soy sauce, ginger, chili sauce and sesame oil.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: none

Makes: three to four servings

2 Tbsp mayonnaise

2 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp brown sugar

2 tsp cider vinegar or rice vinegar

1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger

1/2 tsp Sriracha or other smooth hot chili sauce, or to taste (see Note)

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1 3/4 cups shredded green cabbage

1/3 cup grated carrot

1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper

1/4 cup unsalted roasted peanuts or cashews, coarsely chopped

1 green onion, halved lengthwise, and then thinly sliced, widthwise

Combine mayonnaise, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, ginger, sriracha and sesame oil in a salad bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, toss to combine and serve.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.