Easy Gourmet Pork Chops with Pan Sauce: Variations on a Theme
Pork chops are so tasty and affordable that they end up on my dinner table several times a month. While I generally follow one basic recipe, I have built in ways to change the flavoring components so that the dish never tastes the same way twice in a row. You can easily do the same with this quick and easy approach.
This is more of a game plan than a recipe, so I haven't specified an ingredient list or even the number of pork chops. Instead, I've given proportions based on the number of chops. I think this should make it easier for you to tweak according to your own tastes and preferences. If you read the recipe through, decide what flavorings you are going to use, and have them ready beforehand, you can pull the whole recipe together in 45 minutes.
1) Figure 2 small or 1 large pork chop for each person you are feeding. If you are going to be cooking more than 4 small or 3 large chops you will need to brown them in batches and finish the dish (step 7) in the oven. Otherwise, you can do everything on top of the stove. Plan accordingly - if you are using a pot that can't go into the oven, have a casserole ready and preheat the oven to 375 degrees when you start cooking.
2) Brown the chops on both sides over medium-high heat. It is usually not necessary to use oil, but if you aren't using a non-stick pan you may want to coat it with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil. As you are browning them, season with the herbs or spices of your choice. You can keep this simple and just use salt and pepper or herb-seasoned salt. You can also get more exotic. I often use preserves, chutneys, or dried fruit in this recipe, and in this case, I will sprinkle the chops with ground coriander and a pinch of allspice, ground cardamom, or nutmeg. If you are taking a more savory approach, you may want to use thyme or rosemary, or even Chinese five-spice powder. Don't be afraid to experiment!
3) Remove the chops to a plate. Reduce heat to medium-low. If there is no oil or fat from the pork chops in the pan, add 2 tsp. of olive oil. Then add ONE of the following, coarsely chopped or sliced -
1/2 onion for every two pork chops - this can be a basic yellow onion, or you can get more adventurous and try sweet Vidalia onions or red Bermuda onions.
1 small shallot per pork chop, but no more than 4 total.
Saute this aromatic vegetable for a few minutes until softened but not browned, scraping up any browned bits of pork that might be left on the bottom of the pan.
4) Deglaze the pan with one or more of the following liquids, using approximately 1/3 cup liquid per pork chop:
Broth (chicken or beef)
Red or white wine (ideally, the wine you plan to serve with the pork)
Madeira, Port, Sweet or Dry Vermouth
5) Stir in a condiment of your choice, approximately 1 generous tablespoon for every two pork chops. My tried and true favorite is any kind of fruit chutney, and I particularly like those made by Paumanok Preserves (www.paumanokpreserves.com). I have also used fruit salsas, preserves, and a variety of sweet/hot mustards or wine jellies (also available from Paumanok).
6) Optional: You may want to add some dried fruit to the sauce. Choose something to complement your other flavorings. Dried apricots or prunes always work well. Dried cherries, mangos, or pears can also be good choices.
You may also want to add a tablespoon of maple syrup or honey to your pan sauce to thicken it. If you do this, I suggest adding two teaspoons of vinegar to add some piquancy and prevent the sauce from being overly sweet. Cider vinegar, a white balsamic vinegar, or white wine vinegar all work well.
Stir your pan sauce together to blend the flavors and let it come just to a simmer.
7) If you are finishing the chops on top of the stove, return the pork chops to the pan now and spoon the sauce over them. Cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of your dinner, checking after 15 minutes and turning the chops so they will absorb plenty of flavorful sauce on each side. You may need to add a little more liquid, or to boil it down for a couple of minutes to concentrate the flavors.
If you are finishing the chops in the oven, move them to a casserole and spoon the pan sauce over them. You may need to layer them. In this case, spoon sauce over each layer before you add another. Cover the casserole (or put foil over the top if it doesn't have a lid). Place in the oven for 40 minutes, checking the liquid level and turning the chops after the first 20 minutes. The oven method usually produces a thicker, more intense sauce that won't need to be boiled down.
There. The number of dishes you can create with this approach is limited only by your imagination and what's available in your local supermarket. I'd love to hear about the combinations you try if you care to share them with me.