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Trina Byrd missed the comfort of soul food.After her doctor advised her to cut out beef, pork and dairy for health reasons, the Pleasantville resident was craving pork chops. But she didn’t want to raise her cholesterol and sodium intake – she’d cut down on salt, too. Byrd figured there had to be a healthy way to enjoy some crispy chops with soul food seasoning. She’d heard you could get turkey chops.
“I tried some turkey chops at a restaurant in Atlantic City that went out of business,” she says. “They were terrible.”
She figured she could do better herself. She missed the moist, juicy texture she remembered from pork chops. And Byrd is pretty savvy and capable, having run a side computer training business with her husband, Rick, for several years in addition to both working full time.
“I take care of the hardware and she does the software, so it’s a perfect marriage within a marriage,” says her husband of 30 years.
The two are now partners in another business too, running a restaurant in a bus they had been using for their computer school and now have opened as an eatery. The restaurant reflects Byrd’s commitment to eating healthy.
In her quest for healthy chops, Trina Byrd read up and found canola oil is actually healthier than vegetable oil, but still less expensive than extra virgin olive oil. And if you wait till the oil is sizzling hot, the meat will cook quickly, creating that crispy-outside, juicy-inside texture instead of soaking up the oil.
Registered dietitian Lauren Wagner says canola oil, made from rapeseed, is on par with other nut-based oils such as sesame, peanut and walnut oils.
“They’re all mono-unsaturated fats, which are very good for your heart because they don’t promote inflammation and that can help bring down your cholesterol,” says Wagner, of Brigantine. “They’re high-calorie and energy-dense, so you want to watch your portions and measure, don’t just glug, glug, glug.”
So Byrd took her chops into her own hands and started seasoning and deep-frying them as healthfully as she could. For starters, she took a bottle of her favorite soul food seasoning -Mrs. Dash brand – from the supermarket and played around with it until she had recreated her own, salt-free version.
“I just look at the ingredients – if salt is the first ingredient, don’t use it because that means it’s the most of everything,” she says. “I use about a tablespoon of each thing and you can put in it what you like; if you don’t like cilantro, use parsley.”
Once you’ve reached the right mixture, store it in a ziplock bag for a few days before use, she adds. “The sooner you put it together, the better the flavor,” she says. “So you don’t want to make (the seasoning) that day.”
She used her special seasoning on french-fries, too, because “nobody wants to eat fries with no salt.”.And soon word had spread of her delicious food and people were asking her to make it for their own parties and special occasions.
“My family says my turkey chops taste better than real pork chops because they’re not tough and dry,” she says, bragging a little. “They’re moist and juicy and crunchy. You have to let them get a little soft, most people fry them frozen and that’s how all the juice gets out.”
Trina didn’t have a fancy degree from a culinary arts school, but she did have business sense. She prepared the turkey chops and seasoned fries for her students and soon they, too, were requesting more.
“I just love Miss Trina’s food, it’s better than my mama’s,” joked Sharon Pearson, of Galloway, a computer student of Byrd’s.
Trina didn’t need the bus out of which she and Rick had been running their mobile computer school after they settled into their new digs on S. New Road in Pleasantville. So the Byrd’s engaged the help of their son to refurbish the bus as a kitchen and opened Mr. T’s Bustaurant right in front of their school.
Mr. T’s Bustaurant serves more than just turkey chops, too. On Thursdays and Friday, you can get whiting fish filets, fried chicken, turkey chops or a turkey burger with onion and herb-seasoned fries with homemade coleslaw and homemade iced tea or our specialty lemonades.
•2 cups whole milk ( if substituting skim milk, add one extra egg)
•2 cups flour
•1 cup cornmeal
•3 to 4 tablespoons seasoning
•4 turkey chops
•Canola oil for frying
Mix seasoning to taste and store in an airtight bag or container for at least a few hours to a few days before making chops. Allow turkey chops to thaw.
Preheat oil to 350 degrees, or until visibly sizzling. Mix 3 tablespoons of seasoning with flour and cornmeal. Mix egg and milk. Dredge chops well in dry mixture, dip in milk and egg mixture, then return to dry mixture again.
Fry for 2 to 3 minutes each, then remove with a slotted spoon or spatula and let drain a few minutes.
Serve with whole wheat bread, French fries and coleslaw (recipe below).
*Let canola oil cool then pour through a mesh strainer to remove any bits that have fallen off and store for future use.