Good Noodles Take Time

All the more so when they’re prepared in a dining car galley gently swaying along at seventy miles an hour, as was the inspiration for today’s entry.  Dinner was selected not long after crossing the Virginia state line, within view of sunlight glistening across the Potomac.  Although the meal was prepared promptly and efficiently, it wouldn’t have been served until the train was almost halfway to Richmond.  Worth the wait, though, and more about that shortly.

Today’s offering is a Baked Pork Chop with Noodles Creole, a specialty of dining cars on the Atlantic Coast Line, a railway providing passenger and overnight service throughout much of the southeastern US until the 1960s.  Unsurprisingly, these are a couple more recipes from James Porterfield’s Dining by Rail.

The meal is testament to the cook’s art, and to the ability to coax scratch-made cuisine from a mobile kitchen not much larger than are most people’s walk-in closets.  Here are some of those dining car cooks, in their element:Rail Chef-Four The chop is succulently tender, thanks to constant basting as it cooks, and to its two-inch thickness, custom-cut to order at the butcher shop, both in the original and in today’s reincarnation.  Dredging the pork lightly in flour and pan-searing it first confers great benefits, sealing in juices and flavor and fortifying the pork for baking.

As the train speeds to destinations across the southeastern US, what better accompaniment to the chop than Noodles Creole, inspired by one of the cities the line served, New Orleans?  The dish requires two separate preparations, actually.  First comes the creole sauce, well-seasoned with onions, pepper, celery and tomatoes.  Lots and lots of tomatoes.

Once the sauce is ready, it enrobes egg noodles and is sautéed with them.  The result is flavorful, tangy and is supremely velvety, thanks to butter added along with the sauce.  This softens some of the tomato’s assertiveness, while preserving its taste.

All of this takes time, as may be expected from food made to order.  Not that it really bothered passengers, whose hunger pangs soon were forgotten in conversation with dining companions, or in watching the world clack past the windows.


Baked Pork Chops with Noodles Creole

For the sauce:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  •  2 onions, chopped finely (*1)
  • 1 green pepper, minced
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped finely
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup sifted flour
  • 2 cups sliced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 1/4 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley (*2)

Place a large saucepan over a medium flame.  Add the butter and melt, then saute the onion, green pepper and celery for four minutes.  Stir in the garlic and continue cooking for another minute.

Add the flour and stir constantly to create a roux.  Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, mushrooms, bay leaf, salt and pepper.  Stir to incorporate and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the parsley, turn off the flame and cover to keep warm.


1 – Do you know what I’m going to suggest?  That’s right!  Two large bulbs will do the trick.

2 – Likewise, cilantro is almost always a superior alternative to parsley.  This time is no exception.


For the rest of the meal:

  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil (*3)
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 and 1/2 pounds pork chops (*4)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 quart (4 cups) egg noodles, cooked and drained
  • 1 cup Creole sauce, recipe above
  • chopped parsley (*5)

Set a large skillet over a medium-high flame.  Pour in the cooking oil and heat.  Meanwhile, season both sides of the pork chops with salt and pepper, and pass them lightly through flour.  Place the chops in the skillet, in a single layer, and cook four minutes per side, until both sides are well-colored.

Place the pork chops in a baking tray and drizzle the melted butter and the water atop them.  Place the tray in a 300-degree oven and bake for 20 minutes, basting frequently

Meanwhile, place a clean medium skillet over a medium flame and add the four tablespoons of butter.  When melted, add the cooked noodles and saute, stirring frequently to ensure they don’t brown or stiffen, about two minutes.  Stir in the Creole sauce and cook until thoroughly heated, about two more minutes.

To serve, place a pork chop on a serving platter alongside some noodles.  Sprinkle parsley over the noodles.


3 – Pigs love peanuts and peanut oil has an affinity for pork, making for a perfect substitution.

4 – If you select “standard”-size pork chops, it probably will take six to add up to a pound-and-a-half.  However, I asked the butcher to cut the loin into two-inch chops, making necessary only three.  Much less susceptible to drying out when they’re that thick.  If you use a more standard cut, that’s fine, but keep in mind they’ll require more basting when cooking to keep them moist.

5 – As with the sauce, cilantro works better here.


7 thoughts on “Good Noodles Take Time

    1. What a thoughtful compliment, Tamara. Thank you.

      Pasta is one of those carbs we crave. Numbering it among the sugars, salts, fats and other nutrients our bodies do need, actually, but in which modern lifestyles overindulge.

      Some suggest the brain’s yearnings do catch up, eventually (as is, after centuries), and that eventually we will dream of leafy greens. I’m not so sure about that one, though. Do you really think one day we’ll obsess over, not a Reese’s, but a leaf of kale?

      Liked by 2 people

  1. That is a tiny kitchen. Luckily it looks there were plenty of nooks and crannies and places to hang kitchen equipment. They were able to get a lot done in such a small space. I’m sure there could be a lot of sparks between them at times.

    Great photo! The red rose and wine glass is a beautiful touch and of course the food looks simply delicious! It would have been lovely to see the American countryside go by while eating such a decadent meal.

    My mom taught me the trick to making a roux when I was growing up but I never knew it was called that until years later. She was so gourmet and I never knew it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Tiny? Oh, definitely! To think, that modest space fed a hundred or so people three times a day during passenger rail’s peak from the 20s to the 50s. Each meal cooked to order, too.

      A stunning testament to the chefs’ ingenuity. You observe the close quarters and the frenetic pace likely fed squabbles galore, and I agree. Just look at the range of personalities the quartet displays, ranging from wary disdain to sunny bonhomie, and points in between. Reality TV six decades before it was invented.

      As for the table setting, thanks for the compliment, though it merely reflects what rail travel was all about, mid-century. It always was a rather pricey travel option, geared to the haute-bourgeoisie and higher. After all, who else at the time would have needed long-distance overnight travel? Eventually, though, passenger rail couldn’t compete with the much quicker airplane and with the more versatile interstate, but for a few decades it did distinguish itself.

      Your mother’s teachings also distinguished themselves. She sounded like an extraordinary woman, and I reckon that culinary talent is genetic. I draw my inspiration from similar sources.

      Liked by 2 people

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