Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pork for everyone

I enjoy a good pork chop. Especially breaded and baked. So much in fact, I make it about once every other week. Pork chops were the first savory food (along with macaroni and cheese) I ever attempted to cook all by myself. I say attempted because they didn't turn out so great (granted, I was 7). However, my troubles have been remedied and I think I've made pork chops over 50 times. I like the center cut chops the best because the bone does nothing except add cooking time. Unlike chicken breasts, pork chops do not need a bone to add flavor (it only helps when braising or grilling). I also like my chops about an inch thick, anything more and they are begging to be stuffed (some other time, I promise). If you do buy the 2 inch thick chops, slicing them in half (like making a layer cake) is a simple solution.

The common method of making pork chops is dipping them in an egg bath, which is usually 1 egg with salt and pepper whisked together, and then another dip in bread crumbs. Place in baking pan and bake for 45 minutes or so until they reach 160 degrees (lets call it 45 minutes), and eat.

This works pretty well, but there are a few glaring errors. First, pork is a different beast than it was when everyone got together to determine cooking temperatures (probably about 100 years ago). The fatty pork of old was prone to many different disease states, which required it to be cooked to 160. Pork is now leaner and resistant to most bugs. The main parasite in pork, trichinella, is eradicated at 145 degrees. Therefore, pork's cooking temperature can be lowered.

The second error is the breading. Plain old bread crumbs are gritty and bland, only suitable for deep frying or meatballs. For years my family has used crushed stuffing. Yes, crushed Pepperidge Farm stuffing is a great breading. It comes in big chunks, has lots of seasonings, and makes for a great crunchy coating.

So far so good. However, a few more problems have reared their ugly heads. After baking, the bottom is soggy and the chops lack an even, crispy exterior. And pork loves to dry out. Pretty much all the pork I cook now is brined, which makes a huge difference. Trust me, its easy, and you should brine any pork that is not going to be barbecued.

I consulted Cooks Magazine, which, if you are not getting this magazine, is totally worth it. They bake their pork on a rack, which prevents the soggy bottom. It also lets the pork cook faster, which prevents drying. So after playing around with the recipe, I have settled on the following:

Breaded Pork Chops

1/4 C salt
4 C water
2 pounds pork chops (probably 4 of them), about an inch thick

Dissolve salt in water. Trim all excess fat from pork, place in zip-top back, add water, and brine for 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, prepare breading and pan.

1/4 C flour + 6 T
3 egg whites
2 T Dijon mustard
1 1/2 C stuffing. slightly crushed

Prepare three pans, one with flour, one with the 1/4 cup flour, one with the egg whites and mustard, and one with the bread crumbs. Add the 6 T flour to the egg whites and whisk until slightly lumpy.
To prepare the baking pan, take cooling rack and lightly coat with non stick spray. Place on top of a baking sheet.

And now, it all comes together. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Remove the pork from the brine, rinse with fresh water, dry well and season with pepper (it's already plenty salty). Dredge one chop at a time in flour, shake off excess, dip in egg whites and then in breading. Make sure to press down for the breading to get even coating. Place on rack and repeat with other chops. Bake for about 15 minutes or until they reach 150 degrees internal temperature. Let cool for about 5 minutes and eat.

And there you go. The egg whites prevent sogginess (that was the yolk fat), and the mustard adds some tasty flavor. You can drizzle lemon juice over them if you wish, but I like mine as is.

2 comments:

Catherine,  January 30, 2008 at 1:10 PM  

I haven't tried any of your recipes YET, but I'm looking forward to it. I have to wait until it's time for grocery shopping again.

Anonymous,  March 18, 2008 at 6:16 PM  

oh, but the bones are very important,
they have marrow and that has flavor.
the closer the bone the sweeter the meat

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