Growing up I loathed the evenings when my parents made pork chops. They were dry from overcooking and quite uneventful in taste, and from what I gather after chatting with some foodie friends, this was quite common for nearly every household back in the 80s and 90s. You’d think that with all those commercials of “Pork – The other white meat” being shown during this era the Pork Association could have at least tried to teach people how to make juicy chops that everyone would love. Perhaps they did, and my parents did not get the memo. It wasn’t until nearly 20 years later, many pork chop trials later that I learned how to make it mouth-watering enough worthy of its praise. So today I want to share with you my three favorite ways to prepare and cook pork chops.
BRINED GRILLED PORK CHOPS
Sometimes meat needs a little help in the flavor department and that is where brining comes into play a technique synonymous with whole turkeys, but with a little help and some patience, your pork chops can be super savory, tender and sweeter than it already is.
Three-day Brined Pork Chops
4 pork chops (1 to 1 ½ inch thick)
8-10 cups of water
1/3 cup salt
¼ cup sugar
1 tbsp of black pepper
3 large bay leaves
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
3 large celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 large cloves, smashed
½ onion, roughly chopped
A couple of large handfuls of coriander seeds and fennel seeds
1. In a large stock pot, dissolve the salt and sugar in the water. Let cool down completely.
2. In a large container with lid, add the pork chops, sugar and salted water, and all the rest of the ingredients. Make sure the pork chops are completely submerged in the liquid.
3. Cover the container and let marinate for three days in the refrigerator.
Cooking the Chops
1. Remove the chops and pat down with paper towel to remove excess liquid
2. Season with some pepper and a little pit of ground fennel powder. Do not add salt since your brine contained a lot of salt which your pork chops have absorbed. (You can buy fennel powder or fennel pollen at a local health food store. Otherwise you can use a spice grinder to make the powder out of fennel seeds.)
3. Coat a grill pan with cooking spray or lightly brush with olive oil. Heat the grill pan so that it is nice and hot.
4. Cook your chops for about 4 minutes on each side. Remove from heat and let meat rest for a couple minutes before slicing and serving.
The end result should be a pork chop filled with savory and earthy flavors from the vegetables and herbs, as well as a nice juicy inside that gives a nice hint of salty and sweet. Cook up some wilted chard greens and mashed potatoes to round out this lovely dish.
TONKATSUDON (pork chops with egg on rice)
This is a dish I often see on menus at Japanese restaurants thinking that it’s for people who just can’t muster enough courage to try actual sushi. So I hardly ever order it, and when I do, it’s just OK. Of course it could be because I am in a sushi restaurant where the fresh fish is the star. However, this dish of crispy fried pork chops with egg and rice is not to be forever looked over. When made at home it’s quite delicious and presents itself with a nice contrast in textures. Plus, it’s a meal that you can have any time of the day – even breakfast. Think of it as a variation of bacon and eggs, just done Asian style.
4 thin sliced pork chops (up to 1 inch thickness)
1/4 cup of flour
1 cup of panko bread crumbs
¼ cup of regular bread crumbs
1 cup of milk
½ Onion, sliced
3 large eggs
3 tbsp of vegetable oil
Japanese chili pepper
¼ tsp sugar
1 tbsp vinegar (usually Mirin rice vinegar)
1. In a large fry pan, heat your oil over medium-high heat.
2. Lightly season both sides of your pork chop with salt and black pepper
3. Line three shallow dishes side by side. In the first dish place your flour, in the second your milk and finally in the third your panko and bread crumbs. Season your bread crumb dish with a dash of salt and pepper.
4. Dredge both sides of each pork chop in the flour, then in the milk bath, and then lightly coat each side with the bread crumbs. You may repeat the milk and breadcrumb steps, but if you do, be sure to shake off any excess crumbs or they may burn in your pan when cooking. Repeat with each chop.
5. Cook your pork chops in your frying pan for about 4 minutes each side, until they are golden brown and the meat is cooked through. If your chops brown too fast, then reduce the heat.
6. Once cooked, set aside on a paper towel for the meat to rest and so that the excess oil can be soaked up.
7. In the same pan, cook your onions until they are very tender. Remove from pan and set aside with the meat.
8. Again in the same pan, over high heat cook your scrambled eggs. Add a little bit of oil to the bottom of the pan if needed before cooking.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together some soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and Japanese pepper spice.
With sticky, steamed white rice that you made ahead of time, scoop a small mound and place at the bottom of a serving bowl. Slice one of your chops with a sharp meat carving knife, being careful not to ruin the nice crust coating the outside of your meat. Place your slices on top of your meat and sprinkle some of your sauce over it. Then top with onions and some scrambled eggs. For final touches you can add more chopped scallions (green onions), pickled ginger or more of the Japanese pepper.
ALL-PURPOSE PAN SEARED PORK CHOP
This final preparation of the pork chop is what I call the all-purpose chop. Create a nice pan sauce by deglazing the pan with some butter, white wine and a sprinkle of herbs or get creative and whip up a nice creamy sage sauce to garnish your chops. If you insist on baking your chops make sure you have enough seasoned liquid with your meat and make sure you cover tightly with some foil. The end result might be a more steamed chop, which has a higher chance of becoming dry once sliced. That’s why I prefer this simpler and faster method of searing your chop in a hot fry pan.
1. Season each side of your chop with salt, black pepper and maybe a little bit of garlic powder.
2. Coat the bottom of a fry pan with vegetable or olive oil over medium-high heat. If you use olive oil, do not let the oil smoke or you will need to start over. Vegetable oil has a higher heat tolerance.
3. Sear and cook each side for about 3-4 four minutes. You’ll know your chop is done and still juicy if the middle is slightly firm to the touch. If it is too firm, you’ve overcooked it.
4. Remove from heat and let the meat rest for a few minutes. Only slice and transfer to your plates when you are ready to serve.
5. Making pan sauce: Deglaze your fry pan with a tablespoon of butter and using a wooden spoon scrap to loosen the droppings on the bottom. Add some cream and a little bit of white wine and reduce down over medium heat. Season with a dash of salt, pepper and some chopped parsley. Serve hot and immediately with your chops.
Also serve with your favorite vegetables or over a nicely seasoned bed of pilaf rice, or try serving with some reduced down lentil (soup) and sauteed chard dish.
FINAL NOTES ABOUT PORK CHOPS
Pork chops is a cheap cut of meat ranging about $3-5 USD per pound, which is cost-effective if you are on a budget. For roughly $10 you can get four nice chops. They range from bone-in and thick slices, which you can find at your local butcher or a place like Whole Foods, to thinner and boneless chops from Asian markets or your neighborhood grocery, like Safeway. The recipes and techniques listed above work well with whatever cut you end up going with, so enjoy!