I was recently reminded of the lowly pork chop while watching Rachael Ray perpetrate some sort of atrocity on a pork roast – it involved ginger snaps and red cabbage and was intended to mimic some kind of wurst, though really why anyone would want to cook, let alone eat, German food (or even a reasonable facsimile) is beyond me. I know I should find Rachael endearing – millions do – but the combination of hyperactivity, that voice and the revolting food she puts out is, frankly, more than I can bear. She exhausts me. And for some reason every time I look at her I am inundated with long-repressed, terrifying memories from my childhood. I wonder why?
Moving forward, I think the pork chop is often overlooked these days, probably because so many people, like myself, were subjected to overcooked pork in their youth when the fear of trichinosis was second only to the Red Menace. Since then I have tried, on many occasions, to cook up a chop that is moist and delicious without posing a health hazard, and until recently I have failed consistently and at times rather spectacularly, I don’t mind telling you. What to do? What to do?
Then one day it occurred to me: when in doubt, go to the Yoda of the kitchen, the man who brought simplified French cuisine to the masses, none other than Pierre Franey. If you don’t have a copy of The 60 Minute Gourmet, you should. It is chockablock with easy, delicious preparations for meat, fish and veg, and it contains the secret to properly cooked pork chops!
So here’s the skinny: According to Pierre, the key to succulent pork chops is rapid cooking over very high heat, which, really, is the opposite of what you’d think. But it’s true! For a half-inch thick, boneless chop, just heat up the skillet good and high, add some oil (olive, grapeseed, peanut or corn) and drop in your chops for three minutes, then flip and cook another three minutes or so. Remove them to a plate while you add whatever you’re using for a sauce. Here are some I like (quantities are approximate, but should be good for four chops):
Piggies in the Orchard: After removing the chops, sauté a couple of chopped up apples for 10 minutes or so in the drippings, then dump them on top of the chops. Add about ¼ cup of white wine, and ½ cup or so of apple cider (preferably tart – if your cider is quite sweet, throw in a couple teaspoons of cider vinegar), a whole garlic clove, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer five minutes or so, remove garlic and pour over chops and apples.
Mustardy Sauce: Remove the cooked chops from the pan and pour off most of the fat. Sauté a chopped onion and a minced garlic clove in the pan. Add ½ cup white wine, ¼ cup of chicken stock, a tablespoon of white wine vinegar and a good big spoonful of mustard (Dijon or grainy mustard – anything but yellow) to the pan. Simmer 5-10 minutes then stir in a tablespoon of so of butter and pour over chops. Fabulous with roast potatoes and green salad.
Porc Zsa Zsa: Sprinkle the chops with paprika before cooking. When they’re done, remove them from the pan and pour off any excess fat, then cook a chopped onion in the drippings. Add ½ cup of chicken stock and ½ cup dry white wine and cook about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in a good dollop of sour cream – at least a half cup. Pour sauce over chops and serve with buttered noodles. Definitely a winter meal, dahling.
Now of course, this all makes a big, greasy, splattery mess, no doubt about it, but sometimes you just have to suck it up and wipe down the stove after a meal. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, remember. And, trust me, it is well worth the effort.
Special bonus: All these recipes work with chicken fillets – boneless breasts or thighs, depending on your preference.