February in the Kitchen – Perfect Pork Chops

Cooking perfect pork chops is not easy. I often find them dry, tough, and almost flavorless because of the lack of fat. The marketing program “the other white meat” has done a lot of damage to the pork industry (my opinion). That being said, there is a huge difference between your typical grocery store pork and the well raised, well-fed heritage pork that you find in better butcher shops and the farmer’s market.

Here’s some good advice on cooking the chops from Dawn Perry, food editor at Bon Appetit.

  1. Buy well-marbled heritage pork if at all possible.
  2. Purchase your pork chops bone in. It slows down the meat’s cooking (allowing you to get a good sear on the chop before it overcooks) and gives a richer flavor.
  3. Season well with a lot of salt and pepper. This will give you a flavorful crust.
  4. Let your chops sit outside the fridge for 30 minutes before you cook them. If they are too cold the outside will overcook while the inside is still raw.
  5. Start with a VERY hot pan, and then take it down to medium.
  6. Do not cut off the outside fat. Instead use your tongs to stand the chop on its side, melting the fat and rendering brown and crispy.
  7. Use an instant read thermometer to tell you when it is done. Cook the chops to around 135 degrees F, and then transfer them to a cutting board or platter. The residual heat will bring the internal temperature up to the USDA’s recommended 145 degrees F.
  8. Do not touch or cut them for at least 10 minutes to let the juices settle back into the meat.

When I saw some well-marbled, humanely raised pork chops at my local butcher I decided to give them a try (it has probably been several years since my last failed effort). I had the idea to treat them the same way I do chicken breasts; brining and then cooking them in a hot skillet, finishing in the oven. They turned out delicious, juicy and flavorful.

Pork Chops

Heritage Pork Chops

Tender and Juicy Pork Chops

Brine:

  • 3 cups of water
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • optional – allspice, black peppercorns, crushed garlic, fresh herbs

Pork chops:

  • 4 bone in pork chops
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

30 minutes to 4 hours before you intend to cook the chops brine the chops:

  1. Bring one cup of the water to a boil in a small saucepan, add the salt (and optional additional flavorings), and stir until it dissolves. Add the two cups of cool water to the hot water. Cool to room temperature.
  2. Put the chops into a large bowl and pour the brine over them. The brine should cover the chops. If you need additional brine the ratio is one cup of water to one tablespoon of kosher salt.
  3. Cover the bowl and put in the fridge.
  4. 30 minutes before you intend to cook them, take the bowl out of the fridge, pour off the brine, dry the chops and coat them with olive oil. Let them sit on the counter to warm to room temperature.
  5. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Place an ovenproof skillet, (large enough to hold the chops in one layer) into the oven to heat.
  6. Remove the skillet from the oven, be careful to use mitts or protection for you hands. Turn on the oven fan or open a window (things are about to turn smoky).
  7. Lay the pork chops in the hot skillet on medium high; they should immediately start to sizzle. You can use tongs to hold them on their sides and sear the outer fat.
  8. Let them sear for about 3 minutes until the underside is golden.
  9. Flip the chops and transfer the hot skillet to the preheated oven.
  10. Roast until cooked through. Start checking at 6 minutes.
  11. Rest the chops for at least 10 minutes.

I smeared the chops with some of my Meyer Lemon and Garlic Confit after flipping them, and before putting into the oven. I know Meyer lemons are more common in California and Texas. Don’t let that stop you from making the confit. Simply subsitute two regular lemons and one orange. Try to get organic ones since you will be using the rind.

Pork Chops

Oven finished pork chops

I count this dinner a big success! I served it with sautéed broccoli rabe from the garden.

Pork Chops

Perfect Pork Chops with Broccoli Rabe

8 thoughts on “February in the Kitchen – Perfect Pork Chops

  1. I’ve never brined meat Liz, it has never gained popularity in Australia, so excuse my dumb questions. Why do you brine meat? Does brining alter the flavour, texture, cooking time? Do you get a lot of juices flowing from the meat when you cook it? You’re right about pork chops being dry and tough, I usually choose alternate cuts of pork, but I’m intrigued by your recipe

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    • I’ve always brined my turkey for 24 hours before roasting. It ensures moist breast meat. Brining works because of two factors.
      1. During the brining process the meat absorbs some of the liquid (they’ve done measurements by weight before and after brining), you start the cooking process with a juicier piece of meat.
      And 2, salt denatures proteins. It works like this:
      The dissolved salt causes some of the proteins in muscle fibers to unwind and swell. As they unwind, the bonds that had held the protein unit together as a bundle break. Water from the brine binds directly to these proteins, but even more important, water gets trapped between these proteins when the meat cooks and the proteins bind together. Some of this would happen anyway just during cooking, but the brine unwinds more proteins and exposes more bonding sites.
      Brining works wonders on chicken breasts and shrimp as well although you should do it for a much shorter time so you don’t end up with mushy meat.

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  2. Brining the chops is an excellent idea and I agree it’s better to cook them with the bone in. I always try to buy well-raised pork as not only is it peace of mind knowing the animal had a happy life, the meat always tastes better xx

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