I don’t know what has happened to me since we were on vacation in Aruba (what feels like a hundred years ago), but I seem fixated on one food, and one food only: Meat. Yeah, I hardly know me either. How could this have happened? The former vegetarian? The person who considers meat a side dish, and nothing else? She who could live by quiche alone? This road I’m walking down scares me. How long until I start craving Bistro Burgers? Gnawing on the bones of demolished lamb chops, then vacuuming them of their marrow? I’ve always seen carnivorous cravings as a slippery slope.
But the truth is a little more earnest: I’ve been striving for more balance in my meals. I’m considering meals that have an element from all food groups in it; what this means is that I’m trying to pair pasta and other carbs with not just vegetables, but something with protein, in hope that it will keep us satiated longer.
Of course, having been a vegetarian for more than 15 years, I know very little about cooking meat. I have never made a hamburger or steak. I’ve never roasted a whole chicken. I’ve used my broiler less than ten times, ever. And I have never breaded anything. Or, I hadn’t before Monday night, with Alex’s help, and wow, was it ever better than I had expected.
I’m sure it has a lot to do with the fact that the Crunchy Baked Pork Chop recipe came from the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated–which my sister bestowed me with a two-year (yay!) subscription to for Hanukah–and CI can do absolutely no wrong. I’d always thought breaded food was a little dull, but the homemade breadcrumbs they suggest with shallots, garlic, parsley, thyme and parmesan are oh-my-gaah good. Starting with a super-moist bread made them even thicker and crunchier than I thought possible, and thickly coating pork chops that been swaddled in a Dijon-egg white mixture, I think I have seen the breading light. Because they’re brined first, they have none of that white meat cardboard effect I cannot and will not get past.
This isn’t exactly the quickest way to make pork chops–the frying pan or broiler are best for that–but if you’ve got a little extra time, I think you’ll be impressed. Bowled over, even. Just don’t forget to serve them with some vegetables and a salad; some days, I’m certain they are the only things between me and this guy.
One year ago: Artichoke Ravioli with Tomatoes
Crunchy Baked Pork Chops
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
CI notes: This recipe was developed using natural pork, but enhanced pork (injected with a salt solution) will work as well. If using enhanced pork, eliminate the brining in step 1. The bread crumb mixture can be prepared through step 2 up to 3 days in advance. The breaded chops can be frozen for up to 1 week. They don’t need to be thawed before baking; simply increase the cooking time in step 5 to 35 to 40 minutes.
4 boneless center-cut pork chops, 6 to 8 ounces each, 3/4 to 1 inch thick, trimmed of excess fat
4 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Ground black pepper
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup plus 6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3 large egg whites
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Dissolve 1/4 cup salt in 1 quart water in medium container or gallon-sized zipper-lock bag. Submerge chops, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes. Rinse chops under cold water and dry thoroughly with paper towels.
2. Meanwhile, pulse bread in food processor until coarsely ground, about eight 1-second pulses (you should have about 3 1/2 cups crumbs). Transfer crumbs to rimmed baking sheet and add shallot, garlic, oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Toss until crumbs are evenly coated with oil. Bake until deep golden brown and dry, about 15 minutes, stirring twice during baking time. (Do not turn off oven.) Cool to room temperature. Toss crumbs with Parmesan, thyme, and parsley.
3. Place 1/4 cup flour in pie plate. In second pie plate, whisk egg whites and mustard until combined; add remaining 6 tablespoons flour and whisk until almost smooth, with pea-sized lumps remaining.
4. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees. Spray wire rack with nonstick cooking spray and place in rimmed baking sheet. Season chops with pepper. Dredge 1 pork chop in flour; shake off excess. Using tongs, coat with egg mixture; let excess drip off. Coat all sides of chop with bread crumb mixture, pressing gently so that thick layer of crumbs adheres to chop. Transfer breaded chop to wire rack. Repeat with remaining 3 chops.
5. Bake until instant-read thermometer inserted into center of chops registers 150 degrees, 17 to 25 minutes. Let rest on rack 5 minutes before serving with lemon wedges.