Harissa Grilled Pork Loin Chops / by Cynthia Raub

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harissa grilled pork loin chops

After the delivery of my first child, I was ravenous. I craved animal fat and meat that I could gnaw off of the bone. When the opportunity came to cook for a friend with a new baby, I recalled my postpartum craving and was drawn to the idea of grilled meat on the bone with a deeply savory marinade. After some brainstorming with my husband Michael, he suggested I make my own harissa for the pork loin chops I had in mind. Harissa is a North African pepper paste blended with fragrant spices like cumin, coriander, dried mint and caraway. There are numerous iterations of harissa depending on the neighborhood, country or ethnicity but the basic recipe is peppers, spices, garlic and olive oil. It's a widely available condiment in specialty food stores, but it was also surprisingly easy and very inexpensive to make at home from scratch. Harissa is often compared to ketchup or sriracha, but it's neither of those. It's deeply aromatic with very little sweetness, unlike ketchup; and it lacks the bite in acidity that sriracha brings to the palette.

Notes: Because I was cooking for a family that included a three year old, I deseeded the peppers in order to control and mute the amount of spiciness. Deseeding the peppers made the harissa warm but not spicy to my palette. Before I served it to our friends, my own similar-aged (and spicy-adverse) children tried it, and they didn't find it spicy at all. I wish I had doubled this recipe because the harissa keeps so well and is a perfect food gift to share. This recipe was generous enough to season the pork, and I had a 1/2 cup to give to Amy on the condition that she cook something delicious for us with it.

For the Harissa:
Time: 30 minutes
Makes 1 Cup

8 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded (about 2 oz.)
8 dried new mexico chiles, stemmed and seeded (about 1 1⁄2 oz.)
1⁄4 tsp. coriander seeds
1⁄4 tsp. cumin seeds
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
1 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
5 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange

Deseed chiles, cut into 2 inch pieces with scissors and put into a skillet over medium heat. Toast chilies until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Place chiles into a medium bowl, cover with boiling water, and let sit until softened, 20-30 minutes. Heat caraway, coriander, and cumin in an 8" skillet over medium heat. Toast spices, swirling skillet constantly, until very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer spices to a grinder and grind to a fine powder. Set aside.

Drain chiles and transfer to the bowl of a food processor or blender with the ground spices, olive oil, salt, garlic, lemon juice and orange zest. Purée, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the paste is very smooth, about 2-4 minutes. Transfer to a sterilized 1-pint glass jar and fill with oil until ingredients are submerged by 1⁄2". Refrigerate, topping off with more oil after each use. Harissa paste will keep for up to 3 weeks.

Adapted from: Saveur Magazine

For the Pork Loin Chops:
Time: 60 minutes
Servings: 6

3/4 cup prepared Harissa
12, 1" thick pork loin chops (bone in)

Prepare your grill. While your grill is heating up, dry pork chops throughly with a paper towel. On a large sheet pan, toss pork chops with Harissa paste and marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes (up to 6 hours). Once the pork is marinated and the grill is hot, place pork chops on the grill over indirect heat and cook 3-5 minutes per side. Cook until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.