A quick survey of the dishes I’ve presented so far might present the impression that Puerto Rico’s and Cuba’s primary proteins are sausage, beans, and beef. Beef certainly has a prominent place in Cuban cuisine, but in Puerto Rico, the place of honor goes to the pig. (And we haven’t even started exploring the chicken possibilities that these gastronomies offer.) Like everything else about Puerto Rican cooking, the pig became the fixture it is today because pigs are easier to raise in Puerto Rico’s difficult terrain than cattle, and less expensive for an island with a long history of poverty and neglect from is colonial masters. I’ve neglected my way into a nostalgic fixation with the pork dishes of my youth, so, here are chuletas a la jardinera, or, “garden pork chops.”
Chuletas a la jardinera is one of many variants of chuletas guisadas, or “stewed pork chops.” Puerto Rican meat dishes are usually braised or boiled rather than grilled or baked—an odd turn for the country that invented the word “barbecue”—and this method provides comparatively low-effort, exceptionally moist and flavorful results. Chuletas a la jardinera features bone-in pork chops lightly browned and cooked in a tomato-based sauce loaded with a veritable garden of other vegetables, at once homey and rich.
You will need a stovetop or similar bottom-up heat source, your favorite cutting and chopping tools, food tongs, a small container for mixing the rub, a long wooden spoon for stirring, and a large pot or saucepan. For bonus authenticity, mix the rub in a pilón y maceta, the Puerto Rican version of a wooden mortar and pestle. The traditional pot for most Puerto Rican cooking is the caldero, a cast-aluminum pot with curved, medium-height sides and a fitted lid. Similar in concept to the “Dutch oven” style of cast-iron pot, this is a versatile and convenient addition to any kitchen. Anything with similar properties and appropriate volume will do the job; the close-fitting lid is important.
- Bone-in pork chops, 2 lbs. / 1 kg. ½-inch to 1-inch thick preferred.
- Oregano, ½ teaspoon.
- Salt, 2 teaspoons. For extra flavor, substitute with 2 teaspoons Badía Sazón Tropical with Annatto and Coriander.
- Olive oil, 1 teaspoon.
- White vinegar, ½ teaspoon.
- Garlic, to taste.
- Whole canned tomatoes, 1 can (1 lb. 12 ounces).
- Onions, 1 cup. Substitute ¼ cup dried onion flakes.
- Bay leaf, 1
- Ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon, or 4 black peppercorns
- Cilantro, 2 tablespoons
- Salt, 1 tablespoon.
- Honey, 1 tablespoon. Substitute granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon
- Whole kernel corn, canned/fresh/frozen, 1 lb. (or 1 can). If using canned, include the fluid from the can for a sweeter dish.
- String beans, canned/fresh/frozen, 1 lb. (or 1 can). If using canned, include the fluid from the can for a sweeter dish.
- Variations: Add 1 tablespoon of cumin for additional earthiness. Add 1 cup chopped green bell pepper for additional sharpness. Add additional vegetables for weight. Add Manzanilla olives if you’re like me and olives belong in everything.
Common Food Restrictions
- Gluten-Free: This recipe is naturally gluten free.
- Ketogenic / Low-Carb: The use of honey, corn, and string beans makes incorporating this recipe into a low-carb diet challenging.
- Low-FODMAP: Reduce corn and string beans for a FODMAP-friendly sauce.
- Vegetarian/Vegan: The preparation methods provided here can work for vegan alternatives to pork.
- If desired, trim fat from pork chops. Leaving it on results in a richer meal, but a lower-fat chuleta is still delicious.
- Mix other pork ingredients (oregano, salt/sazón, olive oil, vinegar, and garlic) in a small bowl. If available, grind lightly in a pilón y maceta (mortar and pestle). Rub the resulting paste into the pork chops.
- Lightly brown and sear the pork chops on medium-high heat. Flip to sear as many surfaces as possible. For best results, do this in the same pot or caldero where you complete the rest of the recipe. Remove from pot and set aside when finished.
- If using fresh onions, finely chop now. Add whole canned tomatoes, onions, bay leaf, black pepper, cilantro, salt, corn, string beans, and other optional ingredients to pot. Mix well.
- Return pork chops to pot, well within the sauce.
- Bring to a boil over moderate-high heat.
- Cover, reduce heat to moderate, and boil for 30 minutes. If using whole peppercorns, remove now.
- Uncover and boil for 30 minutes.
- Let cool and serve. Suggested accompaniments include a rice dish, a salad, and a side.
I had no recollection of this specific dish when I decided I would learn this recipe, but the results are intensely familiar anyway. This dish’s long history means every family’s version is different, and for now, this is mine. Chuletas a la jardinera extends the proud Puerto Rican one-pot tradition a step further, showing the versatility of this practice. May this addition to your culinary repertoire serve you well.