This is a simple, straightforward secondo whose flavor is 100 percent dependent on the quality of the pork you use. We use pork from heritage pigs, such as Berkshire and Red Wattle, which is infinitely moister and more flavorful than the pork you find at a conventional grocery store. Berkshire, also known as Kurobuta pork, is the variety most available to the consumer. You can get such pork at some butchers, high-end grocery stores, and also by mail order from online sources. I guarantee you will find the difference in flavor worth the effort it takes to get it.
- 3 medium fennel bulbs (about 1 pound), with fronds
- 2 large yellow Spanish onions, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
- 20 cloves thinly sliced garlic, about ½ cup
- ½ cup Arbequina, Ligurian, Taggiasche, or Niçoise olives
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups Sambuca
- 1 cup chicken stock
- ½ cup kosher salt
- 1⁄3 cup sugar
- 4 9- to 10-ounce boneless pork chops (about 1 inch thick)
- 4 teaspoons Fennel Rub (see Notes)
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) finishing-quality extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon fennel pollen
To prepare the fennel, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400ºF.
Cut the fennel fronds off the bulbs and reserve them to garnish the pork. Trim and discard the ends from the fennel and, with the bulb standing on the flat, root end, slice the bulbs lengthwise into ½-inch-thick slices. Combine the fennel, onions, garlic, and olives in a baking dish large enough to hold the fennel slices snugly. Drizzle with ¼ cup of the olive oil, sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and toss to combine the ingredients. Remove the fennel slices and create a bed of the onions, olives, and garlic. Lay the fennel slices on top of the onions, slightly overlapping the slices. Pour the Sambuca and chicken stock around the fennel and drizzle the remaining ¾ cup olive oil over the fennel. If you have industrial-strength plastic wrap, which won’t melt in the oven, cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap. In either case cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and place it in the oven to cook for 1 hour. Remove the dish from the oven and remove and discard the foil and plastic, if you used it, taking care not to burn yourself with the steam that will rise. Return the pan to the oven and cook until the fennel is browned and glazed looking, 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, leaving the oven on to cook the pork.
To prepare the pork, combine the salt, sugar, and 1 cup of water in a large nonreactive baking dish or large sealable plastic bag to make a brine. Add the pork chops and turn to coat them on all sides. Cover the dish with plastic or seal the bag and set aside for 1 hour. Remove the chops from the brine, discarding the brine. Pat the pork chops dry with paper towels, and place them on a cutting board. Sprinkle each chop generously with 1 teaspoon of the rub and use the sides of the chops to mop up the rub that falls onto your cutting board.
Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof sauté pan over medium- high heat until it is almost smoking and slides easily in the pan, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chops and cook until deep brown and caramelized on one side, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the pork chops and place the pan in the oven for 5 minutes, to cook the pork through. Remove from the oven and let the chops rest in the pan for 2 minutes before serving.
Lay the braised fennel mixture in the center of each of four plates, dividing it evenly. Drizzle a spoonful of the braising liquid over each serving and lay a pork chop on top. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the finishing- quality olive oil over and around each chop, sprinkle with a pinch of fennel pollen, lay several of the fennel fronds on top, and serve.