When you think about it, a “big, fat juicy pork chop” is kind of an oxymoron. Double-thick pork chops always sound good and look impressive, but unless they are cooked perfectly, they are apt to be dry.
With large, thick chops – and that is basically what you will find at most meat counters – it’s a good idea to give them an overnight cure or a couple of days in brine if you want moist, tender results.
For my money, I’d rather have a thinner chop. Skinny chops cooked over high heat on the stove are guaranteed to come out juicy. They are a breeze to cook and are done in minutes, beautifully browned and crisped. And though it’s not strictly necessary, I let them have a short soak in a simple, quickly made brine. Just a one-hour bath is enough time to give skinny chops all the seasoning they need.
Sometimes skinny chops are called breakfast chops. You see them in supermarkets – a dozen slices, bone-in, packaged in foam trays and advertised as family packs. Those will work fine, but they are most likely from pigs raised by large commercial operations (factory farmed, so to speak), from lean hog breeds that grow quickly, flavor being a secondary concern.
Better to visit a butcher who is dedicated to nose-to-tail eating, if you can, someone who will offer you locally raised meat. The chops from slower-growing heritage pork breeds are blessed with meat that is marbled, and therefore tastier and more succulent.
At your butcher shop or at one of the supermarket meat departments that now carry this virtuous and delicious pork, ask for bone-in chops about three-quarters of an inch thick, 4 to 5 ounces each, preferably from the rib end. Most butchers are happy to cut them to order. Heritage costs a bit more, but that’s why skinny pork chops make such a lot of sense. Besides, two chops are plenty for a serving (though it can be difficult not to reach for a third one).
Stack them on a platter hot from the pan and serve them with a pile of lemony herb salad. And it’s OK to eat with your fingers – recommended, in fact.
Thin Pan-Seared Pork Chops
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated or brown sugar
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
12 black peppercorns, lightly crushed
6 allspice berries, lightly crushed
8 thin, bone-in pork chops, also known as breakfast chops, 4 to 5 ounces each (about 2 1/2 pounds total)
Extra-virgin olive oil
For the herb salad:
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper
5 ounces baby arugula (about 4 cups), or a mixture of arugula, tender parsley leaves and mint leaves
Pecorino cheese, for shaving (optional)
In a nonreactive large bowl or large deep baking dish, combine salt, sugar, bay leaves, coriander, peppercorns and allspice. Stir in 8 cups cold water to dissolve salt and sugar.
Add pork chops, making sure they are well submerged, and refrigerate. Leave chops in brine for 1 to 2 hours. Remove from brine, pat dry and bring to room temperature. Discard brine.
Whisk together lemon juice, zest and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Put 2 large cast-iron skillets over medium-high heat and film each pan lightly with oil. (Or use a large cast-iron griddle or ridged stovetop grill.) When oil is hot, add chops in one layer without crowding.
Cook about 4 minutes, until chops are nicely browned, then turn and cook about 3 minutes longer, until firm to the touch. Transfer to a warm platter.
Put herb salad leaves in a shallow bowl and season lightly with salt. Toss leaves with half the dressing, just to coat. Place dressed salad on top of pork chops. Drizzle remaining dressing over the top, add shavings of Pecorino cheese (if using), and serve.
Yield: 4 servings