I love pork. Just so we’re all on the same page.
I’ve really always been a big fan of pork. Give me a big thick juicy pork chop over a steak any day of the week. In the words of Homer Simpson, “Porkchops and bacon, my two favorite animals.”
When I was growing up my grandmother used to make us porkchops a lot. Shake n bake, of course, and of course I helped. Grandma’s pork chops were usually cut thin and baked until well done. The common conventional wisdom in my grandmother’s day was that if you saw even a tiny twinkle of pink in your pork you’d probably keel over dead on the spot. You were supposed to cook ’em through and then keep on going, just for good measure. The only problem with that wisdom is that todays pork is bred to be so lean that cooking to well done produces a bone-dry chop that is, sorry grandma, pretty terrible. I know it’s not your fault grandma! Damned conventional wisdom! Maybe this is why a lot of people think they don’t like pork?
Well, I’m here to challenge that wisdom. It’s totally okay if you cook your pork to medium-well or even medium. You’re not going to die. You’re not even going to get sick. Unless you caught your pig in the wild, the only thing you’re at risk of is eating a seriously tasty pork chop. Thanks to modern farming, Trichinosis (the food borne illness commonly associated with pork), hasn’t been a concern for American eaters since the 1970s. In fact, the USDA even recently lowered their recommended internal cooking temperature for pork from 160 degrees to 145. Yay! We can finally eat tasty pork again!
While we’re on the topic of tasty pork, lets talk about how I like to eat a pork chop. Call me uninspired, but my favorite flavor to pair with pork is apple. I know it’s super traditional and I’m not showing you anything you haven’t seen before, but hey, it’s friggin good! If it ain’t broke, I ain’t trying to fix it.
I’ve been eating apples with pork for as long as I can remember, which probably stemmed from grandma’s well done chops. I used to slather those suckers with mountains of applesauce, for the moisture as much as the flavor.
People have actually been pairing pork with apples for centuries. Before sugar was readily available to most people, fruit sweetened foods were usually served alongside or in combination with savory, and apples were a common way to add a touch of sweetness to pork dishes. This may have started because some farmers would feed old or rotten apples to their pigs, and some people say that a diet high in apples can actually flavor the meat.
On a side note, I might just need to plant some apple trees and buy a few pigs…
I think pork chops on the bone tend to have the best flavor, and the thicker they’re cut the juicier they’re going to be when they’re finished cooking. If you get your pan nice and screaming hot you only need to sear the chops for a few minutes on either side to get them perfectly cooked to medium well. If you’re still scared and want to cook them to well done, remove them from the pan the second the meat reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Even thick cut chops will get dry and tough if overcooked.
To add a little depth to the pork and apple combination, I deglazed the pan with white wine after searing the pork, sautéed the apples with some onions and mustard, and finished the the whole thing with some cream and fresh sage from our back yarden. The onion helps keep things from going too sweet and fruity, and the mustard adds some interesting texture and a nice earthy vinegary bite. The sage reinforces that earthiness, and the cream gives the topping a really nice velvety finish. Despite feeling kind of “grown-up” and “fancy”, this meal is actually pretty simple to make and comes together in less than 30 minutes!
Since things are getting all nice and autumnal outside, I decided to pair my pork chop with some mashed sweet potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts. And, of course, there was also some white wine.
Seared Pork Chops with Apples, Onions, & Mustard
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup white wine
1 firm sweet apple, such as pink lady
1 small onion
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons finely sliced fresh sage
1/4 cup cream
Generously season pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Preheat a heavy skillet over high heat until your butter sizzles and immediately browns when added. Add 1 tablespoon butter, swirl in pan, and immediately add pork chops. Reduce heat just slightly to medium high, and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes per side. You want them cooked to about medium-well. A little pink won’t hurt you but you want the meat to be mostly white. If you’re scared, use a meat thermometer to be sure the meat reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Do not overcook or the chops will be tough and dry. Meanwhile; peel, core, and finely dice the apple, and finely dice the onion.
Remove pork chops to a plate and tent with foil (remember they’ll keep cooking a little while they rest). Deglaze pan with white wine, add remaining butter, apples, and onions and season with salt and pepper. Cook until onions are translucent, apples are tender, and everything is starting to get a healthy caramel brown, about 10 minutes. Add mustard, sage, and cream; and cook about 3 minutes more.