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story.lead_photo.caption Pork chops with pineapple salsa and roasted potatoes - Photo by Kelly Brant

I find the aroma of fresh pineapple almost intoxicating. So much so that when I buy fresh pineapples, I usually leave them sitting on the counter or in the fruit bowl to perfume the house right up until the last minute before preparing and consuming.

Prepping a fresh, whole pineapple can be a bit daunting (and messy), but it's well worth the extra effort for the superior flavor and texture. Some supermarkets sell peeled and cored pineapples, but these are usually much more expensive than buying the whole fruits.

A trick I learned when I toured the Dole Plantation in Wahiawa, Hawaii, a few years ago was how to test when a pineapple is ready to eat. Give one of the spiky center leaves a gentle tug. If it releases easily, the fruit is ready. If it does not, wait a day or two and try again. A very ripe pineapple will give off a heady aroma and its skin will turn from green to golden.

My preferred method for prepping a pineapple is somewhat different from the instructions that are sometimes on the pineapple tag.

To remove the spiky leaves, hold the pineapple firmly in one hand and the stalk in the other. Twist the fruit and leaves in opposite directions. If fully ripe, the spiky top will come right off. Alternately, lay the pineapple on its side and cut the top and bottom away using a sharp chef's knife. You want to remove about 1/2-inch from the top and bottom to expose the flesh. (Another trick I learned at the Dole Plantation is you can grow a pineapple plant from the twisted off top. Dry it in a dark place for about a week, then place it in a pot of garden soil. Here in Arkansas, you'll need to move the pot indoors or to a greenhouse during the winter months, but if all goes well, in 18 to 20 months the plant should produce fruit.)

Stand the pineapple upright on a cut end and, using the chef's knife, cut the rough skin off in long strips, rotating the pineapple with each cut. Once the skin has been removed, use a paring knife to remove the eyes, being careful to remove as little flesh as possible.

To cut the fruit into rings, lay the pineapple on its side and cut into slices. Use a doughnut hole cutter or apple corer to remove the core.

For pineapple chunks or diced pineapple, stand the fruit on end, then cut the pineapple vertically in half. Cut each half to make quarters. Then cut on an angle to remove the core. Chop or dice as desired.

For garnishing drinks, don't peel the pineapple, but cut it into quarters as directed above and remove core.

This recipe calls for half a pineapple. I made pineapple-rum coolers with the other half by pureeing the remaining fresh pineapple half with the juice from the remaining lime and orange halves from the recipe below, along with a few ounces of spiced rum. I served the mixture over ice with a splash of club soda.

Pork Chops With Pineapple Salsa and Roasted Potatoes

3 medium red potatoes, chopped

Olive oil

Salt and ground black pepper

2 thick cut boneless pork loin chops

Espresso-Chile Rub (recipe follows) or other favorite seasoning for pork

1/2 fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and diced (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, cored and diced

1 red chile, minced

2 green onions, thinly sliced (green and white parts)

Juice from 1/2 lime

Juice from 1/2 orange

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, optional

Pinch cumin

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Toss the potatoes with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange potatoes on the prepared baking sheet. Place baking sheet in oven and roast until potatoes are browned and tender, 30 to 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, season pork chops on both sides with Espresso-Chile Rub. Heat just enough olive oil to coat in an oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add pork chops and sear on both sides. Transfer skillet to oven to finishing cooking. Cook until pork reaches an internal temperature of 145 to 155 degrees. Cooking time will vary based on thickness of chops. Our 1-inch thick chops were ready in about 20 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine the pineapple, bell pepper, red chile and green onions.

Drizzle with lime and orange juices. Stir in cilantro, if using. Season to taste with ground cumin.

Serve chops topped with pineapple salsa with the potatoes on the side.

Makes 2 servings.

Espresso-Chile Rub

2 tablespoons espresso powder

3 tablespoons ground chile powder such as ancho

3 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Transfer to an airtight container and store for up 3 months.

Makes about ¾ cup.

Food on 07/26/2017

Print Headline: Fresh pineapple orchestrates chops symphony

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