Everyone who cooks knows that cooking is an unpredictable business. A faithful recipe we have cooked time and time again to perfection doesn’t come out as we expected it to. You take your eye off the clock for one minute and a burning smell begins to emanate from the oven. You take a beautifully-risen cake out of the oven, and when your back is turned it sinks.
But just sometimes it is not the cook’s fault!
In Charles Dickens’s novel Bleak House (1852-1853), a searing indictment of the English judicial system, the cook at the Sol’s Arms, a tavern in the vicinity of the London courts, is unfairly maligned.
Two characters, Mr Snagsby, a stationer, and Mr Weevle, who lodges with Krook, a rag and bone man, bump into one another one evening as they are wandering the streets near the courts. Both men notice a strange greasy smell in the air:
‘… I have noticed myself that there is a queer kind of flavour in the place tonight,’ Mr Weevle rejoins. ‘I suppose it’s chops at the Sol’s Arms.’
‘Chops, do you think? Oh! – Chops, eh?’ Mr Snagsby sniffs and tastes again. ‘Well, sir, I suppose it. But I should say their cook at the Sol wanted a little looking after. She has been burning ’em, sir! And I don’t think;’ Mr Snagsby sniffs and tastes again, and then spits and wipes his mouth; ‘I don’t think – not to put too fine a point upon it – that they were quite fresh, when they were shown the gridiron’.
That poor cook. As becomes clear later in the chapter, the smell and grease are nothing to do with her lack of culinary expertise. No, they are instead the products of a rather bizarre incident: the spontaneous combustion of Krook!
So, in honour of the Sol’s Arms cook, here are her pork chops – cooked to perfection!
THE SOL’S ARMS PORK CHOPS
Ingredients (per person):
1 pork loin chop (at room temperature)
2 handfuls of mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped or crushed
1 teaspoon grain mustard
1 generous tablespoon creme fraiche
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 knob butter
Salt and pepper
Place a griddle pan – unoiled – on a moderate to high heat for a couple of minutes to heat up. In the meantime rub the pork chop on both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the pork chop on the griddle pan and griddle it for at least 10 minutes on each side until it is thoroughly cooked. (If you don’t have a griddle pan you can use an ordinary frying pan; in that case, oil the pan rather than the chop.)
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and a knob of butter in a separate frying pan over a moderate heat. When the butter has melted and the oil has started to sizzle, add the mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes until they start to plump up and soften. Then add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in the grain mustard and creme fraiche and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the pork chop and all its juices to the pan, stir through and serve with your choice of accompaniments (I chose crushed roasted potatoes and a green salad).