SO you’re standing at the meat counter on your way home from work. The pork chops look terrific and they’re priced right for a family dinner -- but how are you going to cook them?
A frequent comment I hear from friends these days is that they love pork chops in restaurants but can’t seem to get the same juicy, tender results at home. Too often, even a favorite recipe turns out tough and dry.
With today’s leaner pork, a new rule of thumb applies, but the change -- shorter cooking time -- is to the home cook’s advantage. There’s nothing easier to make for a snappy weeknight dinner than pork chops, and once you have the simple technique in mind, you’ll be inspired to try all sorts of variations.
Just keep in mind four quick steps: Season the meat, sear it, make a sauce as you deglaze the pan and finish the meat in the sauce.
The same technique applies whether you’re making everyday chops seasoned with thyme and garlic, spicy tomato-olive sauced chops or a dressier preparation that features a rich, cream-based sage sauce. All of these sauces are quickly pulled together to take advantage of the fact that the chops will have a total cooking time of only about six to 10 minutes.
Lean pork chops should never be cooked to well done. Because they don’t have generous fat and marbling, they’re easily overcooked. The challenge is to turn out juicy chops with an appetizingly browned exterior and a slightly pink center.
Look for quality
FIRST, select the right chops. Look for the lean, high-quality chops that are more widely available these days. Choose either medium (three-fourths- to 1-inch) or thick (1 1/2 - to 2-inch) cuts for recipes that call for pan-searing and finishing the chops in the sauce. Thin (less than three-fourths-inch) cut chops will overcook before they brown. These are better simply seasoned and grilled fast on high heat.
Cooking time varies according to the cut of chop, whether it is boneless or bone-in, and the amount of fat along the outside edge. Fat takes longer to cook, so trim off excess fat. Bone-in pork chops will take a little longer then boneless chops.
If you are cooking meat you’ve just purchased, it should be tempered by the time you’re home and ready to cook. If the meat has been refrigerated, season it and let it stand for half an hour before cooking.
To sear pork chops, heat equal amounts butter and olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet. The high heat is needed to get a good sear in a short amount of time. The combination of butter and olive oil will help prevent the butter from burning. Cook the chops three to six minutes per side.
Don’t worry if they’re red in the center at this stage; they’ll continue to cook after being removed to a plate and covered in foil.
Next, deglaze the pan with wine, broth or water, scraping up any nicely browned bits of meat. Add any additional sauce ingredients. Finishing the chops in the sauce means just that -- a brief heating to marry the flavors of the sauce and the pork. Don’t get distracted and walk away; the chops should only cook for one to eight minutes depending on the thickness of the chops. Even two or three additional minutes can dry out the chop.
To test for doneness, make a tiny cut. If the juices run clear or very light pink, the pork chop is done. Another way to test for doneness is by touching. The surface should feel firm but not hard.
Finally, until you get a feel for the technique, you can use a thermometer. Insert it into the side of the chop not touching the bone. It should read 132 to 135 degrees after browning; the temperature will rise as the covered chops stand while you prepare the sauce.
Juicy and tender, with a delicious sauce to spoon over rice or potatoes too -- pork chops made this way are even snazzy enough for the weekends.