- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

BATON ROUGE, La. - The pork chop probably is the least intimidating cut of meat to prepare. Unless overcooked to the point of drying out, the chops stay tender, juicy and flavorful.

That said, you cannot just salt and pepper a pork chop, toss it in the oven and expect to sit down 20 minutes later to a great-tasting entree.

It is estimated that today’s pork is 30 percent leaner than pork of 20 years ago. That means there is less fat to keep it moist as it cooks. Without the moisture, there is less tenderness and possibly less flavor in the cooked chop.

Many cooks have adapted their pork-chop recipes by adding moisture at some point during the cooking process to keep it from drying out. They also may marinate pork chops before cooking them.

Another way to maintain moisture is to braise chops, or brown them in fat and then cook the meat in a small amount of liquid over low heat in a tightly covered pan. Slow cookers are ideal appliances to use when braising chops.

Stove-top braising is often referred to as “smothering.”

A smothered pork chop is a comfort-food favorite, right alongside steak and gravy. The rich onion- and gravy-covered chops in one of today’s recipes usually are served over cooked rice.

So what about this old-fashioned dish? Are there any secrets to making smothered pork chops taste so good that you want to have more?

We have discovered a few.

A recipe-testing team decided that two cuts of pork chops worked best: the center-cut loin and the rib. The rib was a little cheaper at the supermarket and worked just fine. Because we think of smothered pork chops as frugal fare, we didn’t buy the thick-cut chops. We don’t recommend buying the thin-cut chops, either — just the regular cut, which is about 3/4 inch thick.

We also thought that adding a tablespoon of brown sugar to the roux when we caramelized the onions enhanced the onions’ natural sweetness.

Finally, we couldn’t resist adding a cut-up baked sweet potato to the gravy as it simmered. The sweet potato was fully cooked, so it mainly added color, which isn’t a bad idea because an attractive, appetizing appearance whets the taste buds. We liked our oldie-but-goodie pork chops. Try these recipes, and see if you do, too.

This dish is based on a recipe from “Steaks, Chops, Roasts, and Ribs,” by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.

Smothered pork chops

4 bone-in rib loin pork chops, cut about 3/4 inch thick

Ground black pepper

Salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium onions, sliced thin

2 garlic cloves, minced

bell pepper, coarsely chopped

1 carrot, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 cup chicken broth

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 baked sweet potato, cut into chunks

3 tablespoons fresh minced parsley

Cooked rice

Season pork chops with pepper and salt. Sear (brown) chops in heated olive oil over medium-high heat. Remove chops; set aside.

Make a roux in the same skillet with the flour and vegetable oil added to the browned bits left in the skillet from the chops. Cook to medium-brown. Stir onions, garlic, bell pepper and carrot slices into the hot roux and stir and turn vegetables until they are coated with the roux. Lower heat and put on top on skillet to sweat the vegetables for about 10 minutes as they brown.

Return chops and any juices from the chops to the skillet. Mix brown sugar into the vegetables and chops, cover skillet, and cook 5 minutes more.

Uncover skillet and add chicken broth, Worcestershire sauce, chunks of sweet potato and additional seasoning if desired. Stir to make sure the vegetables are covered evenly with the broth.

Cover again and simmer for 30 minutes or until chops are tender and the gravy has thickened nicely. If the gravy gets too thick as it simmers, add a couple of tablespoons of water to thin it.

Sprinkle chopped parsley over chops and gravy and serve with cooked rice. Makes 4 servings.

Roma pork chops

This recipe is from Kikkoman Soy Sauce.

4 center-cut pork loin chops, cut inch thick

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

teaspoon finely minced garlic

teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons oil

3/4 pound Roma tomatoes, quartered

1 small onion, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, crumbled

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1/4 cup water

1/4 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced

Cooked rice or pasta

Coat pork chops with mixture of flour, garlic and pepper. Heat oil, and brown chops on both sides in large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in tomatoes, onion, rosemary, soy sauce and water. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Uncover and turn chops and add mushrooms. Cover again and simmer for 20 minutes longer, or until pork is tender. Serve over rice or pasta. Makes 4 servings.

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