Before I got my speedy cherry pitter with its spring-loaded plunger, there was a dark side to the juicy glee of cherry season.
The problem was the pitting.
I’d begin the summer with grand plans of cherry pastries, cherry preserves, cherry cakes and cherry lemonade. Then, after the laborious, fingernail-reddening business of pitting a couple of pounds of fruit, I’d end up with one glorious pie – and a whole lot of cherries eaten out of hand when I finally admitted that pitting them between my teeth was just the easiest way to go.
Buying the cherry pitter, which cost less than one cherry pie at a fancy bakery, changed all that. Now, I can pit a pound of cherries in approximately five minutes. If you adore cherries, consider investing in one.
But even if you’re relying on a hairpin or a paper clip for pitting, fresh sweet cherries can still be part of your summer cooking. The key is to choose a recipe that calls for a cup or two of fruit, rather than a quart or two. Then use your cherries where they will have maximum effect.
For example, cherries are brilliant as the foundation of a pan sauce to serve with rich meats like duck breasts. But pork chops work equally well, and they are better suited to weeknight cooking: easier to find, a little less finicky to prepare. Besides, pork and fruit are classic together, and brawny chops are as delightful with cherries as they are with more typical apples.
As with any other pan sauce, the way to get the most flavor is by searing the meat until it’s well bronzed all over. The browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan give the sauce depth. The next step is deglazing the pan with some kind of liquid to help dissolve those browned bits into your sauce. Here, I use brandy along with the juicy fresh cherries themselves to do the job.
You can use either sour or sweet cherries here, as long as you balance the sweetness and the acidity. Sour cherries will need a bit of honey to finish the sauce, while sweet ones benefit from a touch of vinegar.
Then for dessert, you can still make cherry pie. But a pile of raw cherries (with a nearby bowl for the pits) is just as fitting a way to celebrate the glories of the season.
Pork chops with brandied cherries
Total time: 45 minutes; yield: 4 servings
1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt, more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 bone-in pork chops, 1 1/2 inches thick, about 1 pound each
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
2 tablespoons brandy
2 cups fresh sweet or sour cherries, pitted and halved
4 sprigs thyme, plus thyme leaves for garnish
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar or honey, or more to taste (use the vinegar with the sweet cherries, the honey with the sour cherries)
Combine salt, garam masala, pepper and allspice in a small bowl. Rub mixture all over pork chops, covering their entire surface. Let chops rest for 15 to 30 minutes at room temperature, or up to 24 hours, covered, in the refrigerator.
Heat a 10-inch skillet at medium-high. Add oil. Sear pork chops until brown, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Add garlic to pan, then sear the fatty edges of the chops, using tongs to hold them up, for about 30 seconds to 1 minute each. (Flip the garlic after it browns on one side.) If the pan starts to smoke at any point, lower the heat. Transfer the pork to a plate, and spoon off all but a thin layer of fat from pan. (Leave garlic in the pan.)
Add brandy to pan, let it simmer until the alcohol burns off (about 30 seconds), then add cherries, thyme and 2 tablespoons water. Let simmer for 1 minute.
Move cherries to the sides of the pan and return pork chops to the center so they can make contact with the metal. Cover pan and cook over low heat for about 7 minutes, until meat reaches 130 to 135 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (Its temperature will rise as it rests.) Transfer the pork to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, add butter and vinegar or honey to the pan, stirring until butter melts and coats the cherries. Taste and add more honey or vinegar, and salt as needed. Serve pork with cherries and more thyme on top.