Pork chops can be effortless and delicious, but first you need to understand a few things about the pork that's sold in supermarkets. Pigs in the US have been selectively bred to be very lean over the past fifty years. According to the National Pork Board, a 3 ounce serving of pork tenderloin has 3 grams of fat, which is .1 gram LESS than skinless chicken breast! It also has 15% less cholesterol than chicken breast.
While all this might make your cardiologist happy, it comes at the expense of flavor and moistness. I'm sure you've all had a pork chop at some point that was like eating damp cardboard: dry, mealy and flavorless. That's because today's lean pork doesn't cope well with the high internal temperatures recommended by traditional pork chop recipes.
This was probably in large part due to the fact that until recently, the USDA recommended cooking pork until it reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. According the USDA, Trichinella spiralis (one of the main concerns of eating undercooked pork), is neutralized after 1 minute at 140 degrees F, so why on earth would they tell you to cook it 20 degrees higher? Thankfully they seem to have seen the error in their thinking, and last year, they revised the safe cooking temperature of whole cuts of pork down to 145 degrees F, that's still 5 degrees higher than it really needs to be, but it's understandable that they'd err on the safe side.
So what can you do to ensure you get a moist, tender, flavorful pork chop?
- Brine it – One of my secrets to getting a flavorful juicy pork chop every time, is to brine it in a solution of salt and sugar. In the same way that it benefits lean meats like turkey, brining your pork adds flavor and moisture to the meat, lending a helping hand to even the leanest of chops.
- Don’t overcook it – While you have to decide for yourself what temperatures you’re comfortable cooking your meat to, I tend to cook pork chops to 141 degrees and let it rest for a few minutes before serving.
- Buy heritage pork – If you can afford it, try finding pork chops that come from a heritage breed of pig such as Berkshire(a.k.a. Kurobuta) or Ibérico. Heritage breeds haven’t undergone the selective breeding aimed at reducing the fat content of pork. They’re expensive, and may not be as healthy, but they certainly taste better.
- Use rib chops – As with most meats, tenderness in pork chops often comes at the cost of flavor. I like using pork rib chops because they have more fat than a loin chop, but less connective tissue than a blade chop, helping them strike a great balance between the two ends of the spectrum.
- In a gallon size sealable freezer bag, add the sugar, salt, garlic and water. Seal the bag and swish it around to dissolve the sugar and salt. Add the pork, press out as much air as you can, then seal the bag. Let this sit in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight.
- Remove the pork chops from the brine and use paper towels to remove as much moisture from the surface of the pork chops as you can. If there's water on the surface of the pork chops, they will not brown.
- Add the oil to the pan and heat over medium high heat. Place the pork chops in the pan while the pan is still cold. Because the pork chops are brined with sugar, they'll burn before they cook through if you put them into a hot pan.
- Fry the pork chops undisturbed until they are golden brown on one side and have gone from pink to beige about halfway up the sides.
- Flip the pork chops over and fry the second side until well browned and an instant read thermometer reads 141 degrees F (60.5 C). Transfer them to a plate and let them rest.
- Drain the excess oil out of the pan, and then add the onions and garlic. Sauté until the onions are soft.
- Add the wine, honey and mustard and then turn up the heat to boil off the alcohol and thicken the glaze.
- When the glaze is nice and thick, add the pork chops back to the pan and flip them over repeatedly to coat them with the glaze. Once there is no liquid left in the pan, the pork chops are done. Top with the caramelized onions and and serve with mashed potatoes.