Pork Chops, Applesauce, and my Mother and Mother-in-Law with Recipes and Such
In addition to being very near and dear to my heart, my mother (Margaret) and mother-in-law (Dori), share three things in common:
1) They were both raised in the Midwest (Kansas and Iowa, respectively).
2) They both have German ancestry.
3) The former is a good cook and the latter was (Dori passed many years ago) a great cook, but they both cooked the hell out of pork chops.
I never understood it, but I think it was born of a fear of trichinosis, as if the wheat and corn fields that surrounded their homes were threaded with diseased pork phobia genetic code. Mom, a Depression-era baby trying to feed four kids on a budget she never could forget even in good times, weekly bought those razor thin “chops” in value packs, layered them into a baking pan, seasoned with salt and pepper, and added a generous drizzle of barbecue sauce. She would then tightly wrap it with foil and bake at 350F for as long as she was sure it was done. My childhood memory wants to say at least two hours, and I’m not kidding. The result, God bless her, was flavorless shoe leather. A complete disservice to pork and not a favorite childhood food memory, though I sincerely appreciate the effort, and do to this day. Dori, meanwhile, was surrounded with gorgeous corn-fed beef and pig buying options and always brought the most gorgeous cuts. A lover of her pies and all the goodies that came from her very talented cooking skill set and kitchen, I remained ever hopeful every time she put them on the grill or in the oven. But, sadly, the trichinosis thing took over and even the most beautiful Iowa pork chop imaginable was cooked to death.
So, as I grew older and started learning more about cooking on a personal and professional level, pork chops (and all other chops) was the first thing I tackled after trying to master Dori’s pie crust. Making beautiful pork chops is not hard and there really are only a few rules to keep in mind. Begin with buying the best quality chop possible. All chops are cut from the loin that runs perpendicular to the pig’s spine. My favorite of these are the rip chops (cut from the rib portion of the loin) and the center cut pork loin with contains a T-shaped bone (as pictured here). Thick cut pork chops are about 1 1/2 – 2″ deep and usually weigh about 12 ounces, or 3/4 of a pound. Bring them to room temperature before cooking, removing from the fridge about 30 minutes before you begin. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 350. Using a seasoned cast iron skillet or an enamel-lined cast iron skillet or the heaviest, best quality, oven-proof saute pan you have, heat about 2 tablespoons each butter and olive oil over medium high to high heat. When sizzling, add the pork chops (leaving space, I do two at a time). Cook until golden brown and easily pulled from the pan, about 3 minutes. Repeat on the second side. Turn over again. Place in the oven, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center of the chop draws clear juices. The chops should be firm, but slightly pliable to the touch. (Note: If you prefer to use a meat thermometer, insert into the thickest part of the chop. You’ll want a reading no lower than 145F and no higher than 160F). I like to brush mine down lightly with barbecue sauce on both sides (I know, old habits die hard), rest on a clean plate drizzled with all the pan juices and loosely covered with foil, for about 20 minutes. The resting is one of the most important steps and not to be taken lightly. It allows the fat and juices and flavor to re-absorb into the meat where it will be waiting for your knife and fork and grumbling belly.
Pork Chops with applesauce are a common pairing for a reason – they’re smashing together. The sweetness of apples with the milky sweetness of chops are a match made in heaven especially when paired with the earthiness of sage (add that to your chop seasoning mix) and cinnamon in the applesauce. It may seem a little early to speak of apples and fall, but hints of its imminent (and always welcome to this New England girl’s soul) arrival are everywhere. Kids are going back to school, Halloween candy is in the stores, and that subtle shift of fall light has barely begun. This is a lovely recipe from one of my cookbooks, Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith). Its simplicity makes it divine and it is both beautiful and healthy. Make it a day ahead and serve room temperature alongside your pork chops.
(Yields 2 1/2 cups)
Roasting apples with a bit of lemon juice and sugar ensures that all of the juices, flavor, and nutrients stay in one delicious place, and it also yields apples so tender they are nary in need of mashing. The McIntosh virtually melt on their own, while the slightly sturdier, sweet-tart Jonathan variety require a quick final mash. Perfect on its own, warm from the oven, this applesauce is lovely with a swirl of unsweetened cream over yogurt or ice cream, or as a side to pork roast and chops.
3 Jonathan apples, peeled, quartered, and cored
3 McIntosh apples, peeled, quartered, and cored
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400F. Toss all of the ingredients together on a rimmed baking sheet, coating evenly. Arrange in a single layer. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the apples are very soft and easily break to the touch. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes.
While still warm, place the apples and all of their juices into a manual bowl. With a hand-held masher, gently mash until the applesauce is chunky smooth. Serve warm or cold. Will store, refrigerated and covered, for several days.
Happy and delicious cooking out there, my friends. Cooler days are ahead and pork chops and applesauce season is almost here. If you’re ever in greater Charleston, SC, remember to look me up for a private personalized cooking class in my kitchen. I’ve just updated the link on this site with new details and pictures. Here’s the link:
If you’re looking for a wonderful gift for the Charleston lover in your life (and really, who isn’t one?), consider purchasing my latest cookbook, The New Charleston Chef’s Table (Globe Pequot Press, May 25, 2018) to learn more about the history and food traditions of this town, visit with 80 of her best chefs, and cook from their magnificent recipes. Available online at Amazon and major and boutique bookstores now. I can always sign one for you in person at any of my cooking classes.