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Fear of a Dry Pork Chop

  • Reverse-Seared Pork Chops with Apple Cider Pan Sauce. MUST CREDIT: Photor The Washington Post by Tom McCorkle. Food styling for The Washington Post by Bonnie S. Benwick

  • Apple Cider Glazed Pork Chops MUST CREDIT: Photograph by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post. Food styling for The Washington Post by Bonnie S. Benwick



The Washington Post
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

There is a kind of endless feedback loop in cooking that I have found myself stuck in on multiple occasions. If there’s an ingredient I haven’t worked with a lot, I’m afraid to work with it. Being afraid to cook it means I won’t cook it, and so it goes.

For me, pork is just one of those things.

My parents didn’t cook pork at home when I was a kid, which meant I didn’t grow up eating much of it. So I never learned how to cook it.

Even when I started cooking for myself, I never gravitated toward pork. Force of habit, sure. But I also felt like all I heard about was the danger of overcooking it, so I never bothered.

Well, here I am — I have learned how to cook pork! And, yes, I overcooked it a few times, but it still tasted good. If you’re anything like me, you’ll slip up, you’ll get distracted or you’ll be working in an unfamiliar kitchen, and the internal temperature of the meat will slide above where you want it to be. But even if your pork chops are just a bit overcooked, the sauce provided with both recipes here can mask many faults.

Why two recipes? Because of that whole overcooking thing, you have to think about the best way to cook the meat evenly, and the best way is not necessarily the same for thick and thin cuts. Thin cuts easily dry out, because by the time you get the outside sufficiently seared, the meat inside is overdone. Thick cuts can be hard to get an even cook on, because you may overcook the outside before the inside can finish.

“Poaching” thin chops in a cider-based glaze keeps them moist and adds lots of flavor. Searing them first on one side will yield an appealing, golden brown crust. The original recipe from America’s Test Kitchen called for thick, boneless chops, but I thought this method was especially well suited to thin, bone-in chops, which are easier to find at the grocery store. (Either rib or loin chops will work, although I found it easier to fit four rib chops in the skillet at once.) I tweaked the sauce a bit to mirror one from J. Kenji López-Alt at Serious Eats, so you can use it in this recipe, as well as in the related recipe, for reverse-seared pork chops, which calls for thick boneless chops and a cooking method that takes the pork from the oven to the skillet.

You’ll need an instant-read thermometer to monitor the meat. If your chops are on the thinner side, check their internal temperature after the initial sear. If they are already at the 140-degree mark, remove them from the skillet and allow them to rest for 5 minutes, tented with aluminum foil. Then add the platter juices and glaze ingredients to the skillet and proceed with glaze reduction. If your chops are closer to 1 inch thick, you may need to increase their cooking time in the glaze ingredients.

And about that temperature: The 160-degree mark may stick in your mind. That was previously the safe internal temperature recommended by the government (it still applies to ground pork), but most chefs and home cooks can attest to that temperature causing many a sad, overcooked piece of pork. In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration lowered the safe minimum cooking temperature for pork to 145 degrees, so for medium, cook the meat to 140 to 145 degrees, knowing the temperature will rise to 145 to 150 degrees as the meat rests.

Dry, spongy pork? It’s a thing of the past, just like my fear of cooking it.

Apple Cider Glazed Pork Chops

Ingredients

½ cup cider vinegar

½ cup unsweetened apple cider

½ cup packed light or dark brown sugar

Pinch ground cinnamon

Pinch ground cloves

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

1 shallot, thinly sliced

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 cup)

Four 5- to 7-ounce bone-in pork chops, ½- to ¾-inch thick

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Steps

Combine the cider vinegar, apple cider, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, thyme, shallot and apple in medium bowl; mix thoroughly.

Use a sharp knife to score through the fat and silver skin of the pork, making two cuts about 2 inches apart in each chop (do not cut into meat of chops). Pat the chops dry with paper towels; season lightly with salt and pepper on both sides.

Heat the oil in a heavy, 12-inch skillet (stainless-steel or enameled cast-iron) over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the pork to the skillet and cook for 4 to 6 minutes until well browned (check internal temperature of thin chops; see note above). Turn the chops over and cook for 1 minute longer. Transfer to a plate and pour off any oil/rendered fat in the skillet.

Reduce the heat to medium. Return the chops to the skillet, browned sides up, and add the cider-vinegar mixture; cook for 4 to 7 minutes, until the center of the chops registers 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the skillet from the heat. Transfer the chops to a clean platter, tent with foil and let them rest for 5 minutes.

Once the chops have rested, add any accumulated juices to the skillet along with the butter, over medium-high heat. Cook for 2 to 6 minutes, stirring constantly with a spatula, to form a thickened glaze that is the color of dark caramel (the spatula should leave a wide trail when dragged through the glaze).

Return all the chops to the skillet, and turn to coat both sides with the glaze. Transfer the chops back to the platter, browned sides up, and pour the remaining glaze over the chops. Serve hot.

Nutrition per serving: Calories: 420; Saturated Fat: 7 g; Cholesterol: 100 mg; Sodium: 150 mg; Carbohydrates: 33 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugars: 31 g; Protein: 33 g.

Reverse-Seared Pork Chops With Apple Cider Pan Sauce

Slow-roasting in the oven at a low temperature before a final, quick sear in the skillet keeps these boneless chops juicy. The reverse-sear method promoted by cookbook author J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats means you’ll evenly cook the interior while drying the exterior so that when the chops hit the pan, you quickly get a lovely, browned crust.

López-Alt’s recipe originally called for thick, bone-in chops, but we found the method worked just as well with thick boneless cuts, which were easier to find. Feel free to use bone-in chops (we tried both blade and center-cut) if you prefer, though the timing may be slightly different. Thinner chops are more likely to overcook in this strategy, so see the related recipe (apple cider glazed pork chops) for an alternate method that uses the same addictive pan sauce.

You’ll need an instant-read thermometer for monitoring the meat.

Ingredients

For the pork:

Four 6- to 8-ounce boneless pork chops, about 1 inch thick

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 medium shallot, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

For the Sauce:

½ cup apple cider vinegar

½ cup unsweetened apple cider

½ cup packed light or dark brown sugar

Pinch ground cinnamon

Pinch ground cloves

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and cut into ½-inch cubes (about 1 cup)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Steps

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees and set a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet.

Pat the pork chops dry with paper towels, then season them lightly with salt and pepper on both sides; place them on the wire rack. Slow-roast (middle oven rack) for about 25 to 30 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the chops registers 100 to 110 degrees (medium-rare) or 110 to 120 degrees (medium). To prevent overcooking, start checking temperature 5 to 10 minutes before the suggested time.

Heat the oil in a large skillet (stainless-steel or cast-iron) over medium-high heat. Add the pork chops and sear for 2 to 3 minutes, turning occasionally, until they start to brown.

Add the butter, shallot and thyme; continue cooking, spooning shallots and thyme on top of the chops and basting the meat with butter until golden brown on both sides. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes; an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center should register 135 degrees (for medium doneness). Use tongs to hold the pork chops on their sides so those get seared as well, and their fat caps crisp up a bit; this should take about 1 minute. (If your chops are very thick, you may need to do this on other sides as well to finish cooking the edges.) Remove the pan from heat. Transfer the chops to a cutting board and let them rest for 5 minutes.

For the sauce: Whisk together the cider vinegar, apple cider, brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves in a bowl.

Return the skillet to the stove top, over medium heat; add the butter and diced apples. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the apples are browned and softened. Add the vinegar mixture; cook for about 4 minutes, to form a syrupy sauce. Taste, and season with salt and pepper, as needed.

Cut the pork chops into slices (as thick or thin as you wish) and transfer to a platter. Pour the apples and sauce over them, and serve warm.

Adapted from a recipe by López-Alt posted on FoodandWine.com.

Nutrition per serving: Calories: 450; Total Fat: 18 g; Saturated Fat: 8 g; Cholesterol: 110 mg; Sodium: 510 mg; Carbohydrates: 31 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugars: 30 g; Protein: 42 g.