Saturday, October 6, 2012

Oktoberfest and Pork Chops in Beer Bacon Gravy

It all began with a royal wedding in 1810, and with annual celebrations thereafter, the German's have created the largest festival in the world.  I had the pleasure of being in Munich for Oktoberfest recently and had such a wonderful time in lovely Bavaria.  This year marks the 179th celebration and if you ever get a chance to attend, I strongly recommend it.

The region itself is beautiful with many castles and palaces and much natural splendor to behold.  If you go in September you not only get great Autumn color you'll catch the famed festival where beer, bratwurst and pretzels are all available in quantity.  When making your plans, remember that Oktoberfest typically ends the first Sunday in October lasting only 16 days.  So expect a crowd in the region and pack your lederhosen (leather shorts with suspenders).  Our German friends from the north said no one wears them anymore, but to their surprise and our delight, there were many folks (Germans and tourists alike) dressed in traditional garb.

At the festival they have specialty tents for various interest groups, and accordingly we were in the LGBT tent (above).  That's a band on a platform high above the crowd in a very large tent.  And they have dozens of these tents filled to capacity each day of Oktoberfest.  The music in each tent varies to match the interests of the crowd, but from what I could make out they all eventually swing around to the famous German drinking songs and everyone is standing up on the benches swinging their huge beer steins back and forth singing the songs.

Octoberfest hearts are one of the most popular traditions among all age groups at the Oktoberfest in Munich.  They are as much a part of the celebrations as the specially brewed Wiesn beer, or the traditional halbe Hendl - a spit roasted buttered chicken.  Millions of the famous heart shaped gingerbread cookies are sold every year from the over 100 Oktoberfest gingerbread cookie stalls scattered around the festival grounds.  They are actually baked relatively hard so they can be worn around the neck to announce to all that you are loved (and for others to keep their hands off!)

So when the colors turn lovely here in Chicago, I'm reminded of my wonderful time in Bavaria and get a taste for their food and drink (beer of course, which they consume in record amounts.)  So today I'm fixing this dish that combines favorite flavors of the region.  It's also quick and easy to prepare and comes out perfect every time, so don't hesitate in making on a week night.

Pork Chops in Beer Bacon Gravy


2-4 bone-in pork chops, 1-inch thick or a bit more

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dash of Sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus a few drops more if needed
3 thick slices bacon, diced 1/2-inch
1 medium onion, diced 1/4-inch
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 bottle amber to dark German beer
1/2 cup stock


Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.  Season the meat with salt and pepper on both sides.  On one side sprinkle lightly with a dash of sugar.  Heat the oil in an oven-proof skillet over high heat. When the oil smokes, add the pork chops sugared side down and cook for 3-5 minutes until well browned.  Turn once and brown the other side for 3 minutes more. The chops should be brown on the outside and uncooked in the center at this stage.  Remove to a platter and set aside.

Add a bit more oil to the pan if necessary and add bacon and brown for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the onions and saute over medium heat with the bacon until soft, about 5 minutes more. Sprinkle in flour, stir for 1 minute, then add the beer. Cook until reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes more, then whisk in the stock.  Adjust the thickness of the gravy as necessary by adding more liquid or by adding more starch (flour and water well mixed before adding to the skillet.)  Return the chops to the skillet with the gravy and spoon over the chops.  Cover and place in the oven for 15 minutes while you prepare your other side dishes, which ideally should include mashed potatoes to take advantage of the delicious beer bacon gravy.

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