Tassie's Perfect Pork Chops
I can't count the number of times that I've walked into the Farmstand, looked into the meat freezer, and been amazed by the awesome variety of fine looking cuts it holds. Probably 80% of the times that I've been impressed, I have not followed through on purchasing and eating the item, because I simply don't know how to do it justice in the kitchen! I place it back thinking, "That is too beautiful, maybe I'll learn how to cook it for a special occasion someday..." And then I never do. This year, I resolved to begin eating good local meat--not just in burger, sausage, or chicken soup form. Not just on special occasions, but for simple and delicious meals to bring some taste and fortitude to the work week.
When I saw the enormous Olympic Run Ranch Pork Chops come into the store, I knew that was the place to start! Nothing sounds more tantalizing than a big juicy pork chop, yet I've heard so many horror stories of dry overcooked chops that "taste like cardboard." When I tried cooking one years ago, part of the chop turned out a little dry, and I wasn't sure if other areas were cooked thoroughly enough.
After reading many different opinions on the matter, I formulated my own plan of attack and gave those chops a try. I was delighted with the results. It all turns out to be very simple in the end.
1. For best flavor, make sure your chops are coming from a small farm growing heritage breeds.
2. Make sure that the bone has been left in, and there is plenty of fat around the edges.
3. Generously salt and pepper your chops the night before you wish to serve. Leave uncovered on a plate in the fridge. (Letting them sit overnight like this gives the salt time to break down the proteins of the meat, which makes it more tender. It is not the end of the world if you cannot let them sit overnight. Cook them spontaneously if you feel called to; they will still be delicious!)
4. Preheat an oven to 250 degrees F. Take the chops out of the fridge and allow them to come to room temperature. Find a frying pan or skillet with a handle that can tolerate the oven. Coat the bottom of the frying pan with a mixture of butter and olive oil. Place the chops in the pan, in the oven, and cook until they reach about 110-120 degrees F. They will feel slightly firm and springy to the touch and their look will be evenly pale.
*Note* Some people cook on top of the stove first, then transfer to an oven. The interior of the meat is cooked more evenly by starting in an oven. It also allows only the very outer surface of the meat to dry off a bit, which makes for a better sear when you move them to the stove. Then, in the final cooking stage on the stove, you have better control over getting maximum darkness without overcooking, because you can see them--they will be right in front of you, instead of hidden in an oven!
5. Remove the chops from the pan, placing them on a plate for a moment while you move the skillet to the stove and crank the temperature up. When your pan is ripping hot (but no oil burning!) use tongs to hold the fatty edge of each chop against the bottom of the skillet. Gently press and turn the chop so that the edge releases fat into the pan and forms a delicious crust.
6. Now drop the chops onto their sides and let each side cook until it forms a deep brown crust. You want it to be as dark as it can be without burning. This caramelization makes for rich and complex flavors. The pan should be hot enough that this part does not take long at all!
7. Transfer the chops to a plate or cutting board so that they stop cooking immediately. If you use a cutting board, make sure it is one that will catch any juices that run out. The meat should be between 120-140 degrees F at this point. I find that if I follow all of these instructions carefully, I do not need to use a thermometer to find this sweet spot.
8. Let them rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing into them. Waiting like this prevents too many of the juices from running out of the meat. Any that do, you will definitely want to pour back over the chops when you serve them! They should be the softest white color on the inside, with maybe a hint of pink.