Saturday, March 15, 2008

Crunchy Baked Pork Chops

One of the good things about being sick is that I spend a lot of time on the couch with my laptop, without the attention span or motivation to do any real work. It's a great opportunity to catch up on some of my long-overdue food blogging. (If I'm a little incoherent today, please forgive me--I'm on as big a dose of cold medication as is permitted by the dosage guidelines, and it makes me a wee bit loopy.)

I like pork chops, but the few times I've tried cooking them at home in the past, they've come out dry and tough. Not, as Alton Brown would say, good eats. But I've made these pork chops (from the January/February Cook's Illustrated) twice now, and they've come out great both times. The secrets: a short (30 minute) brine and a not-too-long stint in a hot oven. The coating is delightfully substantial and sticks like glue to the chop, thanks to an ingenious batter of flour, mustard, and egg whites. And setting the chops on a wire rack during baking ensures that the breading doesn't go soggy on the underside of the chop.

A few notes: the toasted bread crumb mixture can be prepared up to 3 days in advance; the breaded chops can be frozen for up to 1 week and tossed straight from the freezer into the oven (but you will need to extend the cooking time from 17-25 minutes to 35-40 minutes). If you're using "enhanced" pork (injected with salt solution) rather than natural pork, skip the brine--or at least do it for a minimal amount of time, lest the chops end up too salty. Finally, this recipe is very forgiving. Seasonings can be altered and proportions fudged without too much of a change in the finished product, so don't worry if you don't have, for example, a bunch of garlic but no shallot, or vice versa.

Crunchy Baked Pork Chops
Serves 4

4 boneless, center-cut pork chops, 6 to 8 ounces each, 3/4 to 1" thick, trimmed of excess fat
4 slices hearty sandwich bread, torn into 1" pieces (original recipe calls for white bread, but I used whole wheat with excellent results)
1 small shallot, minced (~2 tablespoons)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed (~1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves (or 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup plus 6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3 large egg whites
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Lemon wedges for serving

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350F. Dissolve 1/4 cup salt (yes, 1/4 cup) in 1 quart water in medium container or gallon sized zipper-lock bag. Submerge chops, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes. Rinse chops under cold water and dry thoroughly with paper towels.

Meanwhile, pulse bread in food processor until coarsely ground, about eight 1-second pulses (you should have about 3 1/2 cups crumbs). Transfer crumbs to rimmed baking sheet and add shallot, garlic, oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Toss until crumbs are evenly coated with oil. Bake until deep golden brown and dry, about 15 minutes, stirring twice during baking time. Cool to room temperature. Toss crumbs with Parmesan, thyme, and parsley and set aside.

Increase oven temperature from 350F to 425F. While it's coming to temperature, place 1/4 cup flour in pie plate (or shallow bowl). In another pie plate, whisk egg whites and mustard until combined; add remaining 6 tablespoons flour and whisk until almost smooth, with pea-sized lumps remaining. (The mixture should look like something you would have made as a small child and gleefully presented to your mother or father as your latest "invention.")

Spray wire rack with nonstick cooking spray (or don't--I didn't, and I haven't had any problems) and place in rimmed baking sheet. Season chops with salt and pepper. Dredge 1 pork chop in flour; shake off excess. Using tongs, coat with egg mixture; let excess drip off. Coat all sides of chop with bread crumb mixture, pressing gently so that a thick layer of crumbs adheres to the chop. Transfer breaded chop to wire rack. Repeat with remaining chops.

Bake until instant-read thermometer inserted into center of chops registers 150F, 17-25 minutes. Let rest on rack 5 minutes before serving with lemon wedges.


Bee said...

I only have 10 minutes before "Mad Men" starts -- so I've got to be quick. Will elaborate more on pie and cookbook issues/questions later.

So please do not think I was ignoring your pork chops . . . because I wasn't; but I had to take my daughter to tennis practice; then dinner, clean-up; all of the laundry for tomorrow; sports kit, etc. Anyway, I could go back and forth with you all day about food stuff. I will be sad when we don't have as much couch time. (assuming you are going to get well soon and back to your busy life)

So, I came up to my computer this am to write down the bulgur recipe -- and glorious surprise -- discovered the pork chops, too! So I did both -- really, really good. And they were good together, too. Small note: before I even saw this recipe, I had made up a batch of fresh bread crumbs from my leftover oatmeal bread. Well, I only had 2 cups -- but that was actually plenty. BTW, the smell of the bread crumb mixture is unbelievably delicious. I had the girls in the kitchen and we were all inhaling hard! My littlest helped do all of the pork chop dipping -- loved it.
The only funny thing about the meal is that the pork chops, bulgur, and pumpkin pie were all more or less the same color! (I thought that I had some broccoli, but I had used it all up Fri night. So no green veg, which would have helped. Aren't green and orange opposite of each other on the color wheel and therefore complementary colors?) This is the sort of factoid you probably know.

So now that you are my menu guru can you recommend anything nice for lamb for next weekend?

Time's up!

Anne said...

Mad Men! That is a great show. I've only seen one or two episodes, but I've been meaning to buy more on iTunes (it looks like it's not Netflixable yet).

So glad you enjoyed the pork chops! The bread crumb mixture smells heavenly when it's in the oven, doesn't it? (I bet it's even better with homemade bread.) I've been thinking of making a large batch and keeping it on hand for use in various things. Nigel Slater has a delicious spaghetti recipe involving bread crumbs and bacon, and I've been thinking that the pork chop bread crumbs would be good in that dish.

If I remember correctly, it's green/red and orange/blue (and purple/yellow) that are complementary colors. Katie, if you're reading this, can you confirm?

I actually don't cook a lot of lamb (except in curry). How are you doing yours? And what sort of veg do you have at the market in Berkshire at this time of year? We are just starting to get the spring goodies: leeks and asparagus. We are still getting good broccoli, though, which suits me fine--it's one of my favorites.

Anne said...

Addendum: being the curious type, I just consulted Alice Waters (in the form of the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, which does in fact present the recipes in menu form). She serves a baked leg of lamb (with wilted escarole vinaigrette) with a roasted eggplant soup with red pepper garnish, shrimp grilled on rock salt, and fresh figs and mint. It is a September menu, which makes sense given the fresh figs, but it could probably be adapted to what's available in March. I would be happy to type up and post any of these recipes if you'd like to see them.

A quick survey of other cookbooks suggests that lamb with beans is a popular combination. You could use either green beans or shelled beans (like cranberry or flageolet beans). If you can find them, fava beans would probably make an excellent accompaniment. Root veggies, eggplant, and artichokes seem popular; in addition to those veggies, Julia Child also suggests potatoes (casserole, mashed, or sauteed), stuffed tomatoes, ratatouille, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, braised endive, and other braised or wilted greens.

In short, it sounds like you can do no wrong! This is fascinating. I didn't realize that lamb was such a versatile meat.

Brave Sir Robin said...

Julia is God.
I will take no arguments on the subject.

This is a sensible way to do pork chops.

I'm sure you know this, but the problem with pork chops is thus -

Up until the early 80's Pork was heavily marbled and full of wonderful pork fat. The food police stepped in and declared war on pork fat, and almost overnight, American Pork production switched to leaner breeds, and have breed much of the fat (and flavor) out of our little friend. Any recipe from before this time will result in a dry, tough, flavorless pork chop, unless you brine it. These sound wonderful.

btw - for a GREAT read, and love of all things pork, I cannot recommend enough this book. It gives a much better account of what has happened to America's pork supply, (and where you can still get a "real" pig. I read this book over and over. Someday, I may actually cook something out of it!!

Anne said...

Indeed, BSRH. I'm sure there's a way for me to get heritage breed pork around here, I just need to look into it.

Oooh, Michael Ruhlman on charcuterie! I'll have to keep an eye out for that one.

Bee said...

I'm always learning something new here. I think that I've had more gratifying conversations with you two in the past week than I have in 19 months of conversing with West Berkshire Stepford Wives.

When we're old, let's go on European food tour together! We can check out some old-style charcuterie.

BTW, if you want a glimpse inside the mind of a true foodie fanatic, read Tamasin Day-Lewis's "What Shall I Have for Dinner?" I'm going to do a post on food memoirs quite soon. It's in my mental queue.

There are a lot of cool things going on in England vis-a-vis heritage grub/methods of production. I know it's happening in the U.S., too, but I feel it's taking place more on the fringes. Feel free to correct me!

I cooked some delicious ham today; we were hacking away at it a few minutes ago. (It is supposed to be for my soup.) I like pig in all of its forms -- but haven't worked up the courage to try trotters or head cheese.

Bee said...


I forgot to mention your lamb research -- thank you! I'm about to go out (for a night of bridge and Indian food -- sort of a strange way to celebrate St. Paddy's, but what can you do? When in Rome and all that.).

Can we talk lamb over the next few days?

BTW, I don't know if you've seen them, but I've left several posts today on several of our ongoing threads.

Anne said...

Let's do! I did a mini-food-tour last summer with my dear friend Katie: a few days in Paris, a few in Barcelona and environs, and about 24 hours in Bilbao. It was delightful, and I can't wait to go on another one.

When I did my study abroad, my (paternal) grandparents and my grandmother's sister went on a week-long food-and-wine trip down the Seine on a barge. They finished in Paris and spent a few days there with me. More recently, my other (maternal) grandparents went on a similar cruise on the Garonne, ending in Bordeaux. I would love to do something like that at some point.

I will check out Tamasin Day-Lewis's book. Thanks! Also in foodie memoirs: have you read either of Jeffrey Steingarten's collections of essays? The first is The Man Who Ate Everything, and the second is It Must Have Been Something I Ate. Very interesting, and very funny.

There are some great things going on here in the US, too, but it hasn't quite hit mainstream yet. Organic food is becoming more mainstream (I hear you can now get organic produce at Wal Mart). Sustainable agriculture is gaining visibility, particularly in chains like Whole Foods. Heritage breeds, however, are mostly available only at farmer's markets and direct from the farms themselves. Whole Foods sells heritage turkeys at Thanksgiving (and perhaps Christmas), but to my knowledge, they're the only large-scale vendor. Heirloom tomatoes are becoming more popular, but those are really the only heirloom varieties that are commonly available. We get some Blenheim apricots and Gravenstein apples around here at the right time of year (one week at the end of June for the apricots, and a week or two in mid-August for the apples).

Surprisingly enough, it was easier to find heirloom potatoes, radicchio, apples, and so on at Central Market (in Texas!) than it can be to find them in grocery stores here in the SF Bay Area.

I have fond memories of Easter hams at my grandmother's house, but have never cooked a ham of my own. I, too, enjoy pig in every form I've tried. Well, every form except blood sausage... not such a fan of that. Never tried trotters or head cheese, though I expect I will at some point in my life.

You're very welcome for the lamb research! I love looking into this sort of thing and look forward to more talk of lamb and its accompaniments.

Enjoy the bridge and Indian food!

Brave Sir Robin said...

When we're old, let's go on European food tour together! We can check out some old-style charcuterie.

I'll be there (old) before you two will, we'd better not wait too long!


Head cheese isn't as bad as it sounds, it's basically spiced meat in aspic. Not my favorite, but it's edible. Trotters? Had em pickled, not at all to my taste. Pretty darn gross as a matter of fact.

Bee - made the soda bread tonight to go with the corn beef. Not bad! (pictures will be up soon.)

It would be great to dip into soup.

Anne - That's really surprising about the tomatoes and such. I've been to San Fransisco, but the only food shopping I did was in Chinatown. I would have expected, heirloom and organic to be widely available out there.

The Charcuterie book, is just beautiful. You can tell they really love their craft.

Anne said...

Well, let's at least wait a few years so that I can graduate, get a real job, and save up the money, shall we? :)

Oh, there's plenty of organic produce to be had. Plenty of locally grown food, too. But as far as grocery stores are concerned, they mostly stock the shelf-stable, mass-grown varieties that you find in other grocery stores around the country. Now they just come with "organic," possibly "locally grown" labels. Heirloom tomatoes are widely available, and Meyer lemons are starting to become more common, but heirloom apples, potatoes, and so on.... not so much.

Bee said...

I must do my food memoir post! And yes, I've read Steingarten -- love him; he's hilarious; and a fantastic writer.

Ham: I made my first proper one (start with gammon; cook; then add glaze, cook)for Boxing Day this year. It was really good -- plus easy -- plus not as nerve-wracking as turkey -- plus can be served with salads -- plus gives good left-overs and scraps for soup.

Wouldn't it be fun to do a food bloggers tour of Europe? You MUST read the Day-Lewis book. In 8 years, my youngest will go off to college . . . and if we still have any money (nod to banking/stock market situation), I plan to hit the road.

It is quite easy to get organic stuff here; there are also great food markets, but we don't have one -- unfortunately. I mean, we do have one -- but it's not so good.

Anne said...

I'm not as nervous now about cooking a turkey as I was my first time (when I was all but certain that I would inadvertently send at least one person to the hospital), but it can definitely be nerve-wracking.

Maybe if I'm feeling up to leaving the house by later this evening (which I really hope I am) I'll walk over to the bookstore and pick up the Day-Lewis book. Not that I don't have a stack of books waiting for me after I finish the one I'm reading now, but you know how it goes.

I think my parents must be simultaneously relieved and freaking out that their youngest (of four--I'm the oldest) is going off to college next year. Freaking out for obvious reasons, but relieved that they're almost done with this putting-kids-through-school process. Two of us are out and supporting ourselves, the third is on partial scholarship, and the fourth... well, at least she's the last one. The university she'll be attending is adopting one of the currently-in-vogue plans to reduce tuition for families with income below a certain level, and maybe she'll benefit from that.

I'm quite lucky to be within walking distance of an excellent farmer's market. The one in San Francisco (at the Ferry Plaza) is phenomenally good, but my little one down here is an excellent smaller-scale version. It's also year-round, which many local markets aren't, even around here.