Cooking with Pork

Cooking with PorkWhen considering what you are going to have for dinner on any given evening, how often do you think about a juicy pork chop? Despite being a mainstay of cuisines around the globe, chances are pork is not the first option that comes to mind. While there is any number of reasons why this might be true, the most likely one would be because there is the perception that pork is a tough, dry and flavorless product. This belief is born out of the idea that pork needed to be cooked long enough to make it safe to eat. The quality of the pork could have been excellent—but the finished product was ruined by overcooking. While that may have been the case years ago, recent changes in pork production and cooking guidelines are altering the way we cook and eat pork. And, pork dishes of all kinds are being found on the menus of the country’s top restaurants.

The truth is pork can be a very succulent and versatile source of protein. Pork’s natural marbling for juiciness and its ability to absorb flavor make it an optimal choice for a variety of cooking styles. It is in the leaner cuts like the pork loins, tenderloins, and chops where the way you cook it can be the difference between a fantastic meal and something tough and hard to eat. So, why the concern about undercooking it?

The USDA recommended cooking guidelines for pork were established because of the concern over the trichinosis parasite. Making sure that your pork reached a certain temperature would ensure that the parasite was destroyed and you wouldn’t get sick. The current reality though is that trichinosis has been almost completely eradicated in American pork with only a few cases appearing each year, usually with pigs that are homegrown and not inspected by the USDA. While that is great news, we still need to be cautious and cook the pork correctly. But, we don’t need to incinerate it.

Trichinae are destroyed at a temperature of 137 ºF but to be completely sure, it is best to cook pork to a temperature of 150 ºF to 165 ºF. The meat will still be noticeably pink but is considered to be cooked medium. This means you should be taking the meat out of the oven or off the grill when it reaches 145 ºF and let it rest.

Another reason not to overcook your pork? This is not your Grandma’s pig. As recent as 50 years ago, the pigs that went to market weighed an average of 300 pounds and had a thick, beautiful multiple, inches-thick layer of fat along the ribs. And as we know, the fat is where the flavor is. There was more fat on the animal in general which made for a richer, juicier meat that could stand reaching temperatures as high as 180 ºF and longer cooking times without drying out.

That is no longer the case. Today’s pigs go to market at an average of 240 pounds and have a fat layer less than an inch thick. For those who are watching their fat and cholesterol intake, this is fantastic news because today’s pork has less overall fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories than an equivalent amount of skinless chicken thighs. This gives you options when choosing what protein to fuel your body. When cooked correctly, this makes for a much more flavorful and satisfying meal than serving chicken day after day.

Thick Pork Chops with Spiced Apples and Raisins Recipe
Pork and apples are a delicious flavor combination. This recipe for Thick Pork Chops with Spiced Apples and Raisins is adapted from Tyler Florence. The pork chops are definitely tasty (brining is a must!) and a pork roast will work well, too. But for some, the main reason to make it is the warm compote.

For the Pork Chops
1 gallon water
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sea salt
1 cup frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed—or boiled cider
1 1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
2 fresh thyme sprigs
4 double-cut bone-in loin pork chops, 1 pound each
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil

For the Spiced Apples and Raisins
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced in 1/2-inch-thick wedges
Leaves from 2 fresh thyme sprigs
1/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch dry mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lemon

Preheat the oven to 350 ºF.

Make the Brine
In a mixing bowl combine the water, brown sugar, sea salt, apple juice concentrate, peppercorns, and thyme. Stir well to dissolve the sugar and salt. Transfer the mixture to an extra-large plastic bag with a good seal. Submerge the pork chops in the brine, squeeze out the air, seal the bag, and place it in the refrigerator for 2 hours to tenderize the meat.

**Do not brine any longer because the meat will break down and become mushy.

Cook the pork
Remove the pork chops from the brine and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle both sides of the meat with salt and pepper. Put a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add a 3-count drizzle of olive oil and get it hot. Lay 2 pork chops in the pan (most likely only 2 of these big pork chops will fit comfortably) and brown 4 minutes per side. Remove the pork chops to a large baking pan; brown the remaining 2 chops and add them to the others in the pan.

Put the baking pan in the oven and roast the chops for 30 minutes. The pork is done when the center is still rosy and the internal temperature reads 140 to 145 ºF when tested with an instant-read thermometer.

Prepare the compote
While the chops cook, melt the butter in a clean skillet over medium-low heat. Add the apples and thyme and stir to coat them in butter. Cook while stirring for 8 minutes to give them some color. Toss in the raisins and add the apple juice, stirring to scrape up the browned bits.

Stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and dry mustard. Season the apples with salt and pepper. Squeeze in the juice from the lemon to brighten the flavor and simmer until the apples break down and soften (about 10 minutes).

Spoon the spiced apples over the pork chops.

Comments are closed.