seared pork chops with maple, bacon and black pepper sauce
When I first came across this recipe, I was skeptical about putting a maple syrup sauce on top of my pork chop. But then I started playing a mental game of six-degrees-of-culinary-separation, and I thought well, pork – bacon – pepper bacon – maple bacon…sounds like it could work! Throw in some cider vinegar to complement the pork and tame the sweetness of the maple syrup, some shallots and thyme, and you’ve got yourself something endlessly more delicious than ye old plain-jane pork chops of my youth.
Making these pork chops was…an adventure. The final product was amazing, but we had a few problems in the meantime. Problem the first: I ruined the reduction sauce the first time over, because my pan was too hot and I shouldn’t have listened to the instruction to reduce it so long. It went from a smooth, wonderful-smelling sauce to not-so-much in like 20 seconds, and essentially turned into some kind of black bacon caramel (not in a good way) before I knew what had happened. Making the sauce a second time was successful though, and it turned out to be delicious– I can only imagine how much better it would have been if it had included the original pork drippings and browned bits from the bottom of the pan that I had to trash along with the first black goo sauce.
The second problem I had with this dish, which I wasn’t really expecting since I usually cook the thin-sliced pork chops, is that the pork turned out pretty tough. I think that part of the problem was the extended resting time I had to give them while I made a second batch of sauce, but in general it seems to be pretty easy to cross the line from perfect to tough with the slightest mishandling of lean pork. S0, I’m calling for a brining stage with this recipe, which should protect nicely against the dangers of tough pork chops. Of course, you can also choose to skip the brine if you want to streamline your process and take your chances, and I do have to say that if anything can make a tough pork chop worth eating, it’s a maple bacon black pepper reduction sauce.
Seared Pork Chops with Maple, Bacon and Black Pepper Sauce
Adapted from Serious Eats
for the brine:
4 cups apple cider or water, or some of each
1/4 cup salt
a few twists black pepper
2-4 pork loin chops (bone-in or boneless are both fine)
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper
1 strip bacon, chopped
1 medium shallot, minced
1 T chopped fresh thyme leaves
2.5 T cider vinegar
4 T maple syrup (don’t be tempted to reduce it, I tried both ways and 4 is just right)
1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
First, prepare your brine by combining the water/cider, salt, and pepper in a gallon-sized zipper-lock plastic bag. Agitate or stir a bit to dissolve the salt, then submerge your pork chops in the liquid, seal the bag, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove the brined chops from their bag, rinse with cold water, and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Place the tablespoon of oil in an ovenproof skillet large enough to accommodate your chops, and heat it to medium high. When the pan is nice and hot, add the pork chops and sear them to a nice deep golden brown, then turn and do the same on the other side. When the chops are golden on both sides, place the skillet in the oven and finish cooking the chops. While they finish, make sure you have your bacon, shallots and thyme chopped, and your maple syrup and cider vinegar out so you can move quickly when you start the sauce.
Start checking the pork with an instant-read thermometer after five minutes in the oven. When it reaches 145 degrees, remove the pan from the oven (don’t forget a hot pad!) and then remove the pork chops to a plate and cover with foil. Place the skillet with all its drippings and brown bits back on the stove (keep that hot pad next to you!) and turn the heat up to medium.
Toss the chopped bacon, shallots, and thyme into the skillet with the pork juices, and cook gently until they start to brown. Then add the cider vinegar and use it to deglaze the pan, scraping with a wooden spoon to loosen everything stuck to the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat to low (don’t forget like I did!) and cook gently until the sauce reduces to about half. Then add the maple syrup and black pepper and stir. Let it simmer until it’s thickened to a nice sauce consistency, a few more minutes, then spoon it over the pork chops and serve. You could also give the pork chops a little bath in the sauce in the pan to coat them. Either way, enjoy!