How to Cook Perfect Pork Chops

The pork chops today taste nothing like the pork chops your grandparents ate.  With the call for leaner meats, the heirloom variety of pigs were discarded by industrial pig farmers as too fatty and "wild" for industrial breeding.  The commodity pork business designed pigs to be consistently the same for higher yield, so the pork chops you buy at the A&P will taste identical to the pork chops you buy at Costco: pale and flavorless meat with virtually no marbling.

Fortunately for pork lovers, an increasing number of heirloom pork, such as Berkshire, Duroc and Gloucestershire Old Spot, is now available at farmers' markets, butchers and specialty meat shops.  But such delicious and naturally juicy pork is too expensive for a weekday family meal, and so most of us can only afford commodity pork.  To properly cook commodity pork chops, it's necessary to take the additional -- though simple -- step of brining to ensure tenderness and moistness.

How to Buy a Pork Chop
You want to make sure that the commodity pork you're buying is fresh.  Check the date on the package.  There is always a "sell by" date, although a supermarket often repackages a slower-moving product and stamps it with a new "sell by" date.  Naturally you want a "sell by" date several days ahead.  But, again, that's not always a guarantee that the pork is indeed fresh.
Check the pork chop for:
  • Consistent light red flesh with no marks, blemishes or dried edges.
  • The chop is often overly trimmed of fat, but the fat it does have should be creamy white (not pale yellow) in color.
  • There should be some marbling, flecks of fat running through the meat like small veins.
  • Buy bone-in chops: the pork is much moister and tastier than a boneless chop.
  • Buy chops that are 1-inch thick; thinner chops dry out too quickly.
  • Touch the pork through the package; it should be firm and spring back when pressed with your finger. 
If you're not cooking the pork chops that day, store them in the coldest part of your refrigerator (like a meat drawer) for up to 3 days.  Otherwise, freeze the chops for up to 6 months.

Commodity pork absolutely needs to be brined before cooking.  The chemical reaction of the salt and sugar penetrates the pork and tenderizes.  It is possible to over-brine meat, resulting in too salty and spongy meat.  For pork chops that are 3/4-to-1-inch thick, 3 hours will be sufficient brining time.  Here are the easy steps for brining 4 pork chops:
  1. Combine 3 tablespoons Kosher salt and 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar with 3 cups of water in a large bowl.  Whisk until fully dissolved.  Add 2 cups of ice cubes to cool the brine to 45°F.
  2. Put the pork chops in a large zipper-lock bag, and pour in the brine.  Close the bag, and put it in the bowl in case of leakage.  Refrigerate 3 hours.
  3. When you're ready to cook the chops, drain the chops, discard the brine and pat the chops dry with paper towels.  Put the chops on a plate in a single layer and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.
You can add other herbs, spices or seasonings to the brine, which will flavor the pork.

The key to cooking pork chops is to not overcook them.  By taking the chops out of the oven a little earlier than recommended by the USDA, the internal temperature will continue to rise 5 to 10 degrees.  Pork should be served rosy and juicy not brown and dry.
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.  Brush the chops with a little bit of olive oil, then sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper on both sides.  Put about 1/2 cup of flour in a shallow baking dish, and dredge the chops so they're lightly coated with flour.  Tap each chop to remove excess flour.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat.  When the butter stops foaming, add the chops and brown 3 minutes.  Turn the chops over and brown another 3 minutes.
  3. Put the skillet into the oven for 15 minutes.  Using an instant-read thermometer, test the chops from the center.  When the temperature registers between 135° to 140°F, transfer the chops to a warm platter and let rest 5 minutes.
  4. If you wish to make a quick pan sauce, deglaze the hot skillet by pouring in a 1/4 cup of white wine and stirring constantly with a wood spoon, scraping up browned bits, over medium heat.  Add 1 tablespoon of butter, stirring until it's incorporated into the sauce, then spoon over the chops.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
  5. Alternatively, if you don't want a pan sauce, you can simply squeeze a little lemon over the shops, sprinkle with parsley and serve.


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Lifestyle Magazine: How to Cook Perfect Pork Chops
How to Cook Perfect Pork Chops
Lifestyle Magazine
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