An advisor to the Academy, the Minister of Meat, maintains that a pork chop is harder to perfect than a steak.* We all know where a pork chop comes from** but not many of us know the simple secrets to cooking a chop that will blow your mind this time, and every time.
What we don’t want is a grey pork chop. A grey chop means the heat wasn’t high enough. It means that you were chicken. Don’t get chicken with the pig. The difference between chefs and home cooks is that chefs are not afraid of high heat. The pork chop goal is juicy pink inside, crispy fat on the outside. The difficulty lies between crusty on the outside and tender on the inside. The following are the Pork Chop Poobah’s exact directions for the perfect pork chop, which he follows to the letter every time:
- Pork chops
- Fresh sage leaves
- Pears, apples or peaches, thickly sliced***
- For starters, buy your pork chops from the best butcher in town. It is literally impossible to make an inferior pork chop superior. In Charleston we go to Ted's.
- Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. When surface is hot, pour a generous slug of olive oil in pan. You are not frying the chop, but you need more oil than a bare sheen. Using enough hot oil is the reason why the fat crisps and becomes delicious. This heated oil is definitely going to splatter, so wear an apron to protect your clothes, and know you will be wiping the stove and floor near the stove during clean up time. Your stomach and loved one’s stomachs are worth that hassle.
- When the oil starts to pop or "spit" (about thirty seconds), lay the pork chops in pan and leave the chop alone for exactly five minutes. Then turn the chop over. The Pork Doctor says that the second side is the creative side. Not to make you crazy, but he says listen to the vibe. The Dean’s translation: depending on the chop’s thickness, temperature of pan surface, even the humidity, the second side is done in three to five minutes. After cooking pork chops a few times you will know exactly when it is ready by touching and looking. Until that time comes, know that your chop is finished when the second side’s fat is crispy but the interior is pale pink. Stick a knife tip into middle of the meat and take a look at the color. It’s a fine line between pinky perfection and grey overtones.
- When you turn the chop to the second side, place sage leaves and slices of pears around the chops. Both leaves and fruit will be ready in two minutes, when browned and crispy. If the chops need another minute, remove the sage and pears with tongs onto a paper towel first, and then take the chops out.
- Serve pork chops with sage and pears on the side.****
*Why is a pork chop harder to cook than a steak? Steak is more forgiving. Cooking a streak properly means charring the outside and leaving the inside rare. You can guesstimate by looking at the thickness. There is more leeway between black and blue rare and overdone for a steak than there is for a pork chop.
**A pork chop is from the loin of a pig, which runs from the hip to the shoulder and contains the small strip of meat called the tenderloin. The most common chops you see in the butcher case are from the ribs and the loin.
***Fruit and pork go together like Fred & Ginger. Use apples or pears in the fall and winter, peaches in the summer.
****For a colorful feast, serve alongside sautéed yellow wax beans and roasted cauliflower.