My dear friend Yvonne introduced me to Gene Hovis. Not that I ever met him in person. Yvonne, who knows everyone, and I do mean everyone, introduced me to Gene via his wonderful Cookbook cum memoir, ‘Uptown Down Home’ which was published in 1987. Gene was an extraordinary fellow. As a young boy growing up in Salisbury NC, he was sent each summer to visit an aunt in New York City. According to his friend David Columbia, one of Gene’s earliest recollections was asking his mother what the difference was between the public drinking fountains that were “For Whites Only” and those that he had to use. When his mother told him that there was no difference but that those were the rules, Gene announced he wanted to live in New York when he grew up because everybody drank from the same fountain. And that’s exactly what he did.
Like many young hopefuls, Gene set his sites on an acting career. In order to support that ambition, he fell back skills he’d learned in his family of great home cooks. He catered parties and added to his repertoire by taking courses from the doyenne of New York cooking at the time, Dione Lucas. He befriended Craig Claiborne who later wrote the introduction to “Uptown Down Home”. At the time in New York, although the Liberal capital of America, a black man who moved freely in rarefied society was practically unheard of. But Gene Hovis did counting among his nearest and dearest people like CZ Guest. He became food editor at House and Garden and had a popular television segment on Channel 12’s ‘Long Island People’. In his 50s, he was named the International Best Dressed list. A diabetic, he died in his sleep in February 2004. David Columbia gave his age as 69. The New York Times reported he was 59. He looked even younger.
This is a long way to get to a recipe for pork chops. But the other day, I was remembering how much I loved this simple dish. All it takes is some nice big thick bone-in pork chops, some sweet onions and a little garlic, and a very simple ‘gravy’ fortified with Chicken Stock. It’s true comfort food and has a nice low calorie count. With it, I served some baby zucchini quickly sautéed in a little olive oil and doused with some oregano, pepper, salt and a couple of grinds of what Trader Joe’s calls “Everyday Seasoning”. The whole thing came together in under an hour. And it gave me a reason to toast the memory of someone I never met but wished I had. Here’s to you Gene Hovis! And here’s the recipe:
Recipe for Smothered Pork Chops from Gene Hovis:
4 Bone-In Pork Chops about 1 inch thick
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced.
2 cloves of garlic, smashed and skinned
¼ cup All-Purpose flour, generously salted and peppered
to coat each pork chop.
3 tbsp. All-Purpose flour to thicken the sauce.
½ cup water
1 cup Chicken Broth or Stock
1. Coat the pork chops on all sides with flour.
2. Pre-heat a large sauté pan over high heat adding enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
Lower heat to medium, add the onions and garlic and cook until both are softened and slightly browned. Push the onions and garlic to one side of the pan.
4. Brown the pork chops on both sides. If necessary, do this in two batches, setting aside the cooked chops on a plate. Add these to the rest once all chops are browned. Add ½ cup of water, bring to a boil and cover sauté pan.
5. Mix 3 tbsp. all purpose flour with 1 cup of chicken stock. Pour the mixture over the pork chops and onions. Cover and cook for 30 to 45 minutes until chops are completely cooked and sauce has thickened. Check for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.
While the pork chops are cooking, cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, put the pieces into a cast iron skillet, brush with a little olive oil then sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper. Cook about 2 to 2 ½ minutes then turn over and repeat. Serve with pork chops.