A breaded coating can be just the thing to give lean, bland pork chops a flavor boost—but not when it turns gummy and flakes off the meat. The Problem No one wants a pork chop fried in a skimpy, spiced-up shell. But most recipes simply pack on a more substantial crust that turns out leathery and gummy, with breadings that won’t cling tightly to the chop. The Goal We wanted to give this dish a makeover that would result in a lighter, crispier, flavorful breading that stayed put. The Solution To keep this dish fast and easy, we decided to go with boneless center-cut loin chops. Shallow-frying these thin, tender chops takes just two to five minutes per side. Plus, four of them fit snugly in a large skillet, so we’d need to fry only two batches to feed four people. Then we addressed the breading. Our first change was to swap the flour with cornstarch, which absorbs water, causing its starch granules to swell and turn sticky, forming an ultra-crisp sheath when exposed to heat and fat. It gave the chops a light, crisp casing. We then had to find a way to get the breading to adhere to the meat. Tasters liked the subtle tangy flavor and markedly lighter texture that buttermilk brought to the breading over the heavier but traditional egg. We added a dollop of mustard and some minced garlic to perk up the buttermilk’s flavor even more. Next, we needed to find a substitute for the bread crumbs we had been using as the final coat. With buttermilk as our wash, the bread crumbs were absorbing too much liquid and weren’t staying crunchy. The best alternative turned out to be crushed cornflakes. These crisp flakes added a craggy texture to the pork, especially once we added cornstarch to them before dredging the meat. Finally, we found two more ways to ensure our breading stayed strongly adhered to the chops: We gave the chops a short rest and lightly scored them before adding them to the pan. The brief rest gave the cornstarch layer time to absorb moisture to form an even stickier paste, while etching a shallow crosshatch pattern onto the meat’s surface released moisture and tacky proteins that gave the coating an exceptionally solid footing. list of recipes Crispy Pan-Fried Pork Chops Crispy Pan-Fried Pork Chops with Three-Pepper Rub Crispy Pan-Fried Pork Chops with Latin Spice RubRECIPE TESTING Where Breaded Coatings Go Wrong The components of a traditional breadingflour, beaten egg, and bread crumbspresent special challenges when applied to juicy pork chops. Heres how we ensured a crust that stays put and packs plenty of crunch. Problem: Gummy patches under the coating Solution: We swap flourthe usual breading base coatfor cornstarch. Unlike flour, cornstarch contains no protein, so it cooks up lighter and crispier. Problem: Breading pulls away Solution: Instead of the typical egg wash, which puffs up when cooked and contributes to a heavier coating that can pull away from the meat, we use buttermilk as the second layer. It makes for a lighter shell that clings nicely to the chops. Problem: Soggy bread-crumb crust Solution: For an ultra-crunchy exterior, we ditch porous bread crumbs, which absorb too much moisture from the pork and never crisp up. Instead, we combine cornflakes (engineered to retain their crunch in liquid) with cornstarch, which forms a brittle sheath when heated. STEP-BY-STEP Getting a Better Grip Besides rethinking the ingredients in our coating, we came up with two other quick tricks to make sure the breading stays glued to the chop. SCORE Making shallow cuts in the chops' surface releases juices and sticky meat proteins that dampen the cornstarch and help the coating adhere. REST Letting the chops sit for 10 minutes after coating gives the cornstarch more time to absorb liquid and turn into an adhesive paste.
Adapted from cooksillustrated.com
cup cornstarch, divided
tablespoons Dijon mustard
medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, ground, to taste
center-cut boneless pork chops (3 to 4 ounces each), ½ to ¾ inch thick
cup vegetable oil
Place 1/3 cup cornstarch in shallow dish or pie plate. In second shallow dish, whisk buttermilk, mustard, and garlic until combined. Process cornflakes, teaspoon salt, teaspoon pepper, and remaining 1/3 cup cornstarch in food processor until cornflakes are finely ground, about 10 seconds. Transfer cornflake mixture to third shallow dish. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. With sharp knife, cut 1/16-inch-deep slits on both sides of chops, spaced 1 inch apart, in crosshatch pattern. Season chops liberally with salt and pepper. Dredge 1 chop in cornstarch; shake off excess. Using tongs, coat with buttermilk mixture; let excess drip off. Coat with cornflake mixture; gently pat off excess. Transfer coated chop to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and repeat with remaining chops. Let coated chops stand 10 minutes. Heat 1/3 cup oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Place 4 chops in skillet and cook until golden brown and crispy, 2 to 5 minutes. Carefully flip chops and continue to cook until second side is golden brown, crispy, and center of chop registers 140 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 2 to 5 minutes longer. Transfer chops to paper towel-lined plate and let drain 30 seconds on each side. Transfer to clean wire rack set over rimmed baking sheet, then transfer to oven to keep warm. Discard oil in skillet and wipe clean with paper towels. Repeat process with remaining oil and pork chops. Serve with lemon wedges.