The slow-simmered pork in my Peppered Pork Chops gently bubbles in a black-iron cauldron of Caribbean ingredients with aromatics, herbs, and spices delivering wave after wave of flavor. And when served over my citrusy Pineapple Jasmine Rice, you’ll be booking a flight to the islands.
It was twenty-six years ago (August 8th, 1992) that Roxanne and I jetted off for a honeymoon that remains among our fondest memories. Flying into Montego Bay, our Jamaican respite began with an hour-long drive across the mountains to the remote far side of the island and a tiny inlet called Bluefields Bay, and the villas that dot the coastline.
Jamaica is a world away from our roots in Cajun country, but the cultural similarities are hard to miss. Once you leave the fast-paced, urban distractions (tourists and cruise ships) in the port cities, the rural countryside slows to a pace that reminds me of my Acadiana. And like my home in South Louisiana, the colorful Jamaican people honor family and celebrate with gatherings focused on music and food, lots of food.
Located in the foothills among sugarcane fields, our villa—The Hermitage—sits on a hilltop overlooking the tranquil Caribbean harbor. We had the whole house and the grounds to ourselves. The staff greeted us with rum punches and gave us a tour of the stately house designed by a New York couple that wanted to preserve the old-world charm and British heritage of sugar plantations of a bygone era.
Each evening, the dining room was set with fine English china, white lace tablecloth, polished silver, and long-stemmed wine goblets. Our cook was an old-school home cook, and I suspect her menu for us was the same as for her family. Vegetables from the garden, freshly caught seafood, staple items like rice and beans, and pastured pork were plentiful. Locally made rum and plenty of ice-cold Red Stripe beer kept us going during the day, and at night, we tapped the wine cellar.
One meal that stood out was, of all things, pork chops. A specialty of the skillful cook, this was a smothered, black-iron recipe that reminded me of simple Cajun cooking, but with some spicy enhancements. Chile peppers of all kinds infuse Jamaican food, and this dish made good use of them. Stewed down in a thick, oniony broth of chicken stock and coconut milk punched with chiles, tomatillos and a spike of Bijol seasoning, this Peppered Pork Chops dish combined into a bold explosion of flavors.
You might not have heard of Bijol, but I’ve been cooking with it for years. It is a seasoning and coloring agent commonly used in island cooking. Made primarily from annatto powder, Bijol comes from Cuba and is available in most Hispanic or Caribbean markets. It gives a rich golden color to anything it infuses (I use it in stews, rice dishes, and soups), and it works brilliantly in this dish.
Served over a mound of Pineapple Jasmine Rice, these Peppered Pork Chops burst with a peppery punch that will have me popping open another ice-cold Red Stripe and longing to return to Bluefields Bay.
Happy anniversary Roxanne.
- 4 cups jasmine rice, such as Supreme
- 1 cup pineapple, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
- ½ cup diced green onion tops
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 large yellow onions, peeled and thickly sliced
- 2 large red onions, peeled and thickly sliced
- 4 tomatillos, husks removed and thickly sliced
- 8 thin-cut, bone-in pork chops
- Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
- 1 tablespoon Bijol seasoning
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 large poblano pepper, seeded and sliced into rounds
- ½ cup Peppadew peppers
- 1 fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 (4.5-ounce) can diced green chiles
- ½ cup cherry tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch, if needed
- 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese
- Lime wedges, for garnish
- Cilantro stems, for garnish
- Following the package directions, make the rice. While the rice is still warm, stir in the pineapple, beans, and green onions, and combine. Keep warm until serving.
- Preheat your oven to 375ºF.
- In a large cast-iron skillet, pot or Dutch oven with a heavy lid over medium-high heat, add the oil. Once sizzling hot, add the onions and tomatillos; let them cook without turning until charred on one side, about 6 minutes. Remove from the pan to a platter.
- In the remaining grease, add the pork chops (do this in 2 batches if necessary) and let cook without turning until browned on one side, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle the chops with Cajun seasoning, salt, pepper, chili powder, oregano, Bijol, and sprinkle over the flour. Turn and let cook just until the flour begins to brown and the raw taste disappears, about 3 minutes.
- Add all of the peppers, green chiles, tomatoes, and garlic, along with the charred onions and tomatillos. Pour over the chicken stock, cover the pot and place in the oven. Cook for 90 minutes.
- Remove the pot and uncover. Add the coconut milk and lime juice, and place the pot back in the oven uncovered for 30 minutes.
- Remove the pot and taste the sauce, and adjust to your taste. The sauce should be a gravy-like thickness to coat the back of a spoon. (If not thick enough, make a slurry with cornstarch and cold water and stir it in over high heat until it thickens.)
- Before serving, add the chopped cilantro and cheese. Return the pot to the oven and bake just until the cheese melts, about 5 minutes. Serve family-style in the center of the table with the Pineapple Rice along with plenty of fresh limes and cilantro. Ice-cold Red Strip is a must.
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