Pork chops can be frustrating. In my opinion, few things are as simply, wonderfully good as a pan-fried pork chop. Simple, she says? Ah, therein lies the rub. As with so many “simple” recipes, it is all about the quality of the ingredients and the execution of the technique. When a recipe has only 3 or 4 ingredients, each of those ingredients really needs to shine. And, when the whole point of the recipe is to allow those beautiful ingredients to shine, there will be no hiding of any cooking glitches; little chance of fixing it all at the end with a dash of Tabasco (not that I would ever.)
So why are pork chops frustrating? For one thing, most modern pork chop recipes are developed with the modern-day, supermarket-variety chop in mind. They are thin (1/2-inch or so), they are very lean, and they often have little flavor, so you see lots of recipes that have elaborate sauces, brining, dry rubs and marinades. This takes the pork chop dinner away from “quick & easy” and into “brine for 3 days” territory. Frustrating. And oh-so unnecessary when you are cooking with high quality heritage breed pork.
But these farmer’s market chops carry their own challenges: they are generally a much thicker cut than supermarket chops, so they won’t be cooked in the time that most recipes specify; they have more fat than supermarket chops (since convential hogs have been selectively bred to be leaner and leaner) meaning that your dish will end up too greasy if you follow a typical recipe; and, because they are thick, and almost always sold bone-in at the farmer’s market, it is more difficult to tell when the chop is perfectly done without an instant thermometer. (So if you have failed to heed all of my begging, my pleading, my nagging and threatening, that you absolutely, positively must have this one gadget in your kitchen: well, that’s OK. Just pop on out to your corner kitchen gadget store and pick one up. I’ll wait.)
OK, you’re back? Phew. I feel so much better now. (I’m Kaela Thermometerseed: spreading instant thermometer love, and ensuring accurately cooked meat, bread and jams, all over America.) Below you’ll find the recipe. Very simple – very detailed. I’ve included the major category stuff in bold (for those of you who have been around the pork chop block a few times) and added very specific instructions and technique tips (for those of you who are still panting after your frantic trip to the Kitchen Gadget Store). This recipe can be as simple as pork, salt & pepper – nothing else. When that is the case, you really need to have the best pork you can source, and afford, to buy. My favorite chops are from Flying Pigs Farm in Shushan, NY. (I wax philosophic about Flying Pigs, and heritage pork in general, over here.) I’ve also enjoyed pork chops from John Boys, New England Farms and Mountain Smokehouse, also local, also quite tasty. Splurge on the best heritage pork you can afford and I guarantee it won’t disappoint.
Adapted from Thick Cut Chops in Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom by Julia Child
Thick Cut Pork Chops with Simple Pan Sauce
- 2 thick cut (about 2 inches thick) pork chops, preferably from sustainably-raised, pastured, heritage breed pigs
- freshly ground black pepper
- dried oregano or thyme
- 2 tsp clarified butter (or bacon grease or olive oil)
- 1 cup wine or dry vermouth (or stock or apple cider)
- 1 shallot or 2 minced garlic cloves, optional
- 1 -2 tbsp whole milk or heavy cream, optional
- Prepare the pork. Rinse the chops in cool water and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Generously sprinkle salt, pepper and oregano onto one side of each chop; rub in well with your fingers, then repeat with the other side. Allow chops to come to room temperature for at least 30 minutes prior to cooking.
- Sear the chops on both sides. Heat a large skillet over medium-high flame. Do not use non-stick here; you want a hot, flat surface that will sear the meat. Cast iron or stainless steel work well. Make sure you choose one that has plenty of room for the chops; if they are crowded in the pan, they will steam, not brown. Add a tiny amount of butter or oil, just enough to prevent the chops from sticking in the first minute (they will release plenty of fat as they cook). When the pan is hot (but any grease is not yet smoking) add the chops. They should produce a loud sizzle and some pops; if not, the heat is too low. Do not move the chops (not even to “check” on the progress!) for at least 2 – 3 minutes. You want to brown the outside of the chops well before turning down the heat to braise. Flip the chops over and brown the other side. You should have plenty of pork fat by this time, but if not, and the chops are sticking, add a tiny bit more fat. Allow the other side to sear for 2 – 3 minutes.
- Braise the chops. Add wine or vermouth, oregano, and shallot or garlic (if using). Lower the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and simmer until chops are cooked through, about 145 to 150 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. (The USDA says 160 degrees F for safety; older cookbooks will tell you as high as 180 degrees F! No wonder people do not like pork chops. If you trust your meat source, there is no reason not to enjoy meat cooked perfectly; that is, not overcooked. Heritage pork will still be slightly pink inside when fully cooked.)
- Rest the meat. Remove chops from pan and transfer to a plate. Cover with the pan cover (or tent with foil) and allow to rest for 10 minutes, so the juices will reabsorb into the meat.
- Make the pan sauce. Raise the heat and bring the pan drippings to a boil, scraping any browned bits up off the bottom of the pan. Stirring constantly, reduce the sauce to a syrupy consistency (about 3 – 5 minutes). Taste and adjust spices if necessary. If desired, a little whole milk or cream will slightly thicken and smooth out a pan sauce that separates.
- Serve. Plate the chops and serve immediately, drizzled with hot pan sauce.
- This is a very basic dish; the best pork really needs nothing more than salt & pepper. I suggest trying it very simply for the first couple of times, then experimenting with different herbs, aromatics (onion, shallot, leek, etc.) and dry spice rubs. Allspice is nice on pork, as is a fall-flavored pumpkin pie spice: cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, and caradamom.
- The reason for the simmer in wine is because the chops are so thick; over high heat, the outside with be burnt and leathery before the inside is fully cooked. Chops that are 1/2-inch thick usually require no simmer; they can simply be pan-fried.
These are most delicious when hot & freshly cooked, but I have definitely had leftovers last for a few days in the fridge.
Fall through winter.