When we got the opportunity to test drive a set of All-Clad pots and pans, our first impulse was to make pork chops. Why? For one thing, pork chops are rarely far from our thoughts. For another, All-Clad has a reputation as being the industry standard of high quality, durable cookware that shines brightest when subjected to the strains of professional cooking, which most household cookware can’t stand up to. Naturally, we started daydreaming of pork chops searing in a sauté pan on high heat, then finishing in an oven heated to a whopping 500°F. We made a good choice.
There are a few important tips to cooking perfectly tender, juicy pork chops with a golden brown crust and tons of flavor. First, it starts with the quality of the pork chop. Next, it’s about getting the perfect sear. Finishing the pork chop in the oven and basting with butter will ensure even cooking and a perfect, flavorful crust.
When choosing a pork chop, as with any meat, you’ll be rewarded for selecting the highest quality meat you can afford. It makes a world of difference in flavor and texture when the animal your chop came from was raised ethically and eating a nutritious diet. Next, the thicker the chop, the better. A two-inch chop is ideal, as it will retain more of its juices during cooking and can withstand heat high enough to get a good sear without overcooking.
To get that perfect sear, you’ll need a heavy bottomed ovenproof pan that can withstand high temperatures. We recommend an All-Clad 3-quart sauté pan, because it works so darn well, but it does cost a pretty penny. A cast iron skillet is also perfect, if it is considerably heavier and does require more maintenance. You’ll want to get the pan very hot, so that when you drop oil into it, it just begins to smoke. Your chops will need to be patted dry and well seasoned with coarse kosher salt and ground black pepper. Once the chops go into the hot pan, don’t move them. If you have something heavy to press them with, it helps them keep their shape, instead of curling as the muscle fibers constrict.
After several minutes, flip the chops and slide the pan into the oven. The sear should be golden brown. Finishing in the oven ensures more even cooking than direct heat from the pan, avoiding chops that are well done on the outsides and medium rare in the center.
After about ten minutes, remove the chops from the oven and test their temperature in the center. If you’re aiming for medium rare (145°F for pork), you want to remove it from the oven when it reaches 135°F, as it will carry over about 10°F as it rests. If you’re eating high quality pork, we suggest that it’s best enjoyed this way. Otherwise, pork reaches medium at 160°F and can be removed at 150°F.
After you remove the pork from the oven, remove it to a plate, or a resting rack, if you have one.
Add butter to the pan, and some fresh hardy herbs like thyme and rosemary, along with some smashed garlic cloves. Cook the butter, swirling the pan, just until it starts to brown and smell nutty. Return the chops to the pan, tilting it slightly upward by pulling the handle down toward you, and with a large spoon baste the chops with the butter until the chop is sizzling, about 45 seconds. Flip, and repeat with the other side. You’re ready to eat.
Now, let’s talk about polenta. You’ll want to start this about 30 before the pork chops so they’re ready at the same time.
One of the most important considerations with polenta is that the water is heated to a boil before you add the polenta. If the water isn’t hot enough to instantly start cooking the polenta once it hits the water, it will sink to the bottom and become stuck, and you’ll end up with scorched polenta.
Once the water is boiling, rain the polenta into the water while whisking constantly. Do this slowly to prevent lumps. Once all the polenta has been added, stir constantly with a spoon until the polenta fully absorbs the water, then reduce heat to a low simmer. You’ll need to babysit the polenta, stirring frequently, to prevent scorching. Cook for about 45 minutes.
To finish the polenta, add a generous amount of salt and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Brown some butter in a small sauce pan, and just as it begins to brown, add fresh sage. Fry the sage until it becomes crisp, about a minute, and strain the butter into the polenta, stirring it in. Reserve the fried sage and season it with coarse salt.
Agrodolce means “sweet and sour” in Italian, and it’s more of a technique than it is any one recipe. It includes reducing vinegar and sugar to make a sauce with glaze consistency. It is one of the best ways to take your home cooking up a notch.
You’ll want to start this once the polenta is simmering. This recipe begins with getting some color on pearl or cipolline onions. Peeling them can be a pain, but it’s worth it. After they’re peeled, slice them through the equator and lay them in a pan over medium heat with a bit of oil in the bottom. Try not to move them as they cook, and they will get a beautiful sear.
After they’re tender and well colored on the bottom, add your balsamic vinegar and sugar, and some thyme or rosemary if you have them. Simmer and let that reduce until saucy. The sweet and sour flavors, and the bursting bite sized onions pair perfectly with savory, sweet pork chops.
These couldn’t be easier to make, and the payoff is so dramatic. They only take three ingredients: ripe pears, butter, and a little salt.
Add butter to a skillet and get it hot. Place pears sliced vertically, and with seeds removed, face down, and cook until their sugars caramelize, about three minutes. You can time these with the pork chops, and put them in the oven for about 5 minutes while the chops cook. Once the chops are done cooking, the pears will be cool enough to eat.
To plate the meal, on each plate or on a platter, put some polenta down, and place a pork chop on top. Set some roasted pears around the chop, and spoon some onions around the plate, drizzling with the agrodolce. Garnish with fried sage leaves, and enjoy.