Pork Chops 101
We love the versatility of pork chops, and that’s why we’ve developed dozens of pork chops recipes—from pan-fried to sautéed pork chops, and from slow-cooked to grilled. Many of our pork chops recipes can be made quickly and easily, making them perfect no-fuss weeknight meals. Here we explain the core techniques to use when making perfect pork chops.
Making a Pan Sauce for Pork Chops
Just seared some pork chops? Don't wash that skillet! Here's how to use it to make a rich, savory pan sauce to serve with them.
A pan sauce—made with just a handful of ingredients and in a matter of minutes—can look and taste nearly as rich as a classic, labor-intensive French sauce. The base of a pan sauce is the fond, or browned bits, clinging to the bottom of the skillet after sautéing pork chops. Once the meat is removed from the skillet, aromatics such as minced shallots can be sautéed; then, in a process called deglazing, liquid—usually wine, homemade stock, or broth—is added and the fond is scraped up. The liquid is simmered and reduced to concentrate flavors, thickened, and, in a final (sometimes optional) step, the reduction is enriched and slightly thickened by whisking in butter.
If the recipe calls for canned broth, it's best to use a low-sodium variety because reduction can result in overwhelming saltiness. Also avoid the "cooking wines" sold in grocery stores. They contain considerable amounts of salt and are generally unappealing in flavor.
If you intend to make a pan sauce for your pork chops, opt for a traditional skillet. A nonstick skillet will not develop as much fond as a traditional skillet will, and, because fond supplies a pan sauce with richness and depth of flavor, a nonstick skillet will make a less flavorful pan sauce. Also important is the size of the skillet. It should comfortably hold the pork chops. If it is overcrowded, the pork chops will steam and fail to create much fond.
Because pan sauces cook quickly, before you begin to cook it is essential to complete your mise en place—that is, have all necessary ingredients and utensils collected and ready before you begin cooking your pork chops. Here are the things we recommend having ready to use:
1. Just-seared meat After searing the pork chops, transfer it to a plate and tent it loosely with foil to keep it warm while you are making the sauce. A loose seal is recommended because it will help to keep any crust that has formed from turning soggy.
2. Liquids Leave liquid ingredients (such as wine, broth, juices) in a measuring cup. Once emptied the measuring cup should be kept close at hand; the reduced liquid can be poured back into the cup toward the end of simmering to gauge if it has been adequately reduced.
3. Salt and Pepper Tasting for and correcting seasoning is the last step before serving. Keep salt in a ramekin so that it is easy to pinch or measure out in small amounts.
4. Small Bowl Have ready a small empty bowl or container to catch excess fat that must be poured off before you begin the sauce.
5. Whisk For maximum efficiency and easy maneuverability, use a medium-size whisk with flexible wires that can get into the rounded corners of the skillet.
6. Aromatics Aromatics include garlic and onion, but in many pan sauces shallots are preferred. If "minced" is specified, make sure they are minced finely and evenly; this will cause them to release maximum flavor, and their texture will be less obtrusive in the finished sauce.
7. Herbs and Flavorings Herbs are sometimes used in sprig form, to be removed from the sauce before serving. Delicate herbs such as parsley and tarragon are usually chopped and added to the sauce at the end so that they do not discolor. Other flavorings, such as mustard, lemon juice, capers, and chopped olives are often added at the end for maximum flavor impact.
8. Wooden Utensil A wooden utensil works best to scrape up the fond while deglazing, because it is rigid. A wooden spatula is ideal because its flat edge can scrape up more fond than the rounded edge of a spoon.
9. Butter So that it will melt quickly, cut the butter into tablespoon-size chunks. Cold butter is easier to incorporate into a sauce than softened butter and it makes for a sturdier emulsion that is more resistant to separation.
Tired of your pork chops curling as they cook? So were we, until we found a quick technique that prevented our chops from buckling.
Pork chops—especially thin-cut chops—have a tendency to curl as they cook. When exposed to the high heat of the pan, the ring of fat and connective tissue that surrounds the exterior tightens, causing the meat to buckle and curl. To prevent it, we cut two slits about 2 inches apart through the fat and connective tissue on each chop.
What is the safe internal temperature for pork? And is pink pork safe to eat?
The pork of yesteryear was always cooked till gray, but that pork was a lot fattier than what's on the market today. Selective breeding has made today's pork much leaner, and if you cook it till gray, the meat will be dry and tough. We think the leanest cuts—like tenderloin—are best cooked to 150 degrees. At this point, the meat will still have a tinge of pink in the center.
What about trichinosis? Better farming practices have all but eliminated the trichina parasite from American-raised pork. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of trichinosis cases averages 12 per year-and most of those cases have been linked to wild game, not commercially raised pork. Also, the trichina parasite is killed when the temperature of the meat rises to 137 degrees, so cooking pork to 150 degrees should do the job.
Pink pork isn't completely without risk. All meat (including beef) may be subject to cross-contamination with several pathogens, such as salmonella. This can happen during processing, at the supermarket, or in your home. To reduce this risk, some food safety experts recommend cooking all meat to 160 degrees—that is, until it is well done. But if you think it's worth taking the small risk to enjoy a rosy steak, you might as well to do the same with pork.