There’s a psychological phenomenon–and I’m not a psychologist, so cut me some slack here–by which, even though we know what’s good for us, we don’t do the thing that’s good for us. So, for example, let’s say we’re an aspiring journalist and there’s a convention downstairs, in our building, for working journalists who are looking to hire interns. And let’s say we want to be an intern–it’s a crucial step in our professional trajectory–but, on TV, is a marathon showing of The Real Housewives of New York City and it’s the episode where Jill Zarin shows up, uninvited, to the Caribbean. Even though all we have to do is turn off the TV, splash some water on our face and walk downstairs, we don’t. That’s a real phenomenon (perhaps it’s called self-sabotage?) and I’d like to talk to you about it today in the context of pork chops.
When it comes to making pork chops at home, you’ve probably heard a TV chef tell you at some point in your many years of watching chefs cook on TV, that the best thing to do, when purchasing pork chops, is to get your pork chops from a butcher.
But how many of us have a butcher? And even those of us who do, do we really want to make a special trip when we can just pick up the pork chops wrapped in plastic at the grocery store?
Well, this is the story about the opposite of self-sabotage; this is a story about setting yourself up for success. For the secret to killer pork chops at home, as I learned last week, is doing that very thing I just denigrated as impractical: you’ve gotta make a trip to the butcher.
There are two reason you want to do this: (1) thickness and (2) fattiness.
At the grocery store, you have no control over the thickness of your chop. Chances are it’s a thin one and it’s not even on the bone. What you’ll end up with, then, is a dried-out, overcooked chop that no one’s gonna love, not even the dog.
As for fattiness, you need your pork chop to have some fat on it or it’s going to be flavorless and bland. In a very hot pan, the fat will render and you’ll end up with a delectable, crispy skin. And a delectable, crispy pork chop is too good for your dog.
So here’s what you do: go to your butcher and ask for as many “thick-cut” chops as you think you need (I just got two for Craig and myself and that was plenty). Make sure the chops have some fat on them, but not too much.
Now here’s the next step in creating killer pork chops at home….
Leave them out!
If you’re cooking them that same night, don’t refrigerate. Just let them gradually come to room temperature so that by the time you cook them, they’re no longer freezing cold. A freezing cold pork chop is going to take longer to cook and the longer you cook your chop, the more dried-out it’s going to get. So let it come to room temperature.
Otherwise, I cooked these pork chops just like I would a steak (see my perfect steak video). Season the chops with lots of salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 425 and heat a cast iron skillet until it’s almost blazingly hot (anything less and you won’t get a sear). Add a splash of a high smoke-point oil (vegetable, canola, peanut) and be aware that if your pan is too too hot it’s possible that the oil could catch on fire (didn’t happen to me, but it happened once to a reader who made my steak.) Even if that happens, though, just cover it with a lid and you’ll be ok.
Once you’ve got that pan going, add those pork chops and they should instantly sizzle:
Don’t move them at all, let them sit. You want a crispy brown crust and leaving them alone is the only way you’re going to get it. After about 2 to 3 minutes, you use a pair of tongs to sneak a peak; if it’s crusty and brown, use the tongs to hold the chops up and sear the sides (that’s what’s happening in the lead photo). Finally, flip the chops over.
Now, just like in that steak vid, add a Tbs of butter to the top of each chop and a few sprigs of either rosemary or thyme. Place the pan in the oven and cook the chops another few minutes until they’re cooked about medium. (The only way to tell is to feel the top of the cooked chop. With a raw chop, if you pressed down, your finger could go all the way through to the bottom. With an overcooked chop, you wouldn’t be able to press down at all. So if it’s perfectly cooked, it’ll have a little give still but won’t be so tough you can’t press it. If you’re nervous, use a thermometer.)
Remove the chops to a platter and let them rest.
In that same pan, then, add a mixture of apple cider and apple cider vinegar (I did 3/4 cup cider to 1/4 cup vinegar) and 2 Tablespoons of butter:
After boiling it down for a bit, it should get thick and syrupy. Taste the sauce: your mind should be blown.
Now that’s a dinner fit for a king, queen or princess (that means you, Jill Zarin!) It’s time to stop self-sabotaging your pork chop dinners; you deserve the best and now you know how to get it.