Thursday, January 15, 2015

French-Style Pork Chops and Apples

Oh-la-la and merci beaucoup Cook's Illustrated for this recipe.  Saturday nights are usually when Lovey and I try new recipes for dinner.  It's not a work night and I have time during the day to actually prepare something a little more exciting and in depth than creamed tuna on toast.

This juicy recipe is from the January-February 2015 issue of Cook's Illustrated.  I have to admit that the primary reason Lovey and I picked this recipe was that it called for Calvados.  Lovey recently saw some program on TV that focused on Calvados and it gave us an excuse to buy some apple brandy.

The TV program Lovey watched centered on this brand; so that is what we bought.

The key to this recipe is to buy a good, quality chop.  These are center-cut bone-in rib chops; a chop that is all loin.

I Frenched these chops by stripping the end of the rib bone.  Most people, who are classier than I am, appreciate the way Frenching makes the chop look so refined and they can even be adorned with these little paper crowns.  I like it because you can pick it up like a lolly-pop and eat the last bits of meat off the bone like a cave man.  Whether you choose to French them or not, salt the chops on both sides, cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for an hour.  This will help them retain their juices.

Assemble the rest of your ingredients.  Most of these ingredients are used to make the sauce.  You have apples, bacon, shallots, butter, chicken broth, Calvados, apple cider, nutmeg, rosemary, pepper, & apple cider vinegar.

Cook bacon in a medium saucepan over medium heat until crisp.  While the bacon is cooking peel and core the apples and slice the shallots.  Chop 2 of the apples into 1/2 inch pieces.

Once the bacon is crisp, add the shallots, nutmeg, and 1/2 tsp. salt.  After the shallots are softened, remove saucepan from the heat.  Pour 1/4 cup of the Calvados into the saucepan.  You'll flambé the mixture then add the rest of the Calvados and flambé again.  Since I only have two hands and flambéing needs to be done sensibly, I did not try to get a photo of this.

But I guarantee it was awfully fun lighting it on fire.  Once the fire show is over you will add the cider, 1 cup of the broth, thyme sprigs, butter, and chopped apples.  Bring all of this to a rapid simmer until the apples are like applesauce, about 25 to 35 minutes.

The pork chops get seared over high heat about 4 minutes on each side.

Remove the chops form the skillet and set aside.

Add the apple rings to the skillet and brown (please don't pay attention to the rings I halved; they were lucky they didn't get chopped into 1/2" pieces).  Add the remaining 1/4 cup chicken broth and scrape up fond until broth is evaporated.

Remove skillet from heat and flip the apple rings over

Place the chops on top of the apples and place in a 300°F oven

When the chops register a temperature of 135 to 140°, place the apples and chops on a serving platter. Cover with foil and allow to rest while you finish off the sauce.

Strain the sauce through a strainer and press the solids.  Discard the solids. Season the sauce with the vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste.

Strain the sauce a second time into a serving dish or individual dipping bowls.

We served these up with Lovey's favorite potato dish, Gratin Dauphinois.  He likes saying the name as much as he likes eating them; and a west Texas boy saying "gratin dauphinois" puts a smile on my face every time.

And, here's what you have to look forward to once you push yourself away from the table (please don't judge that the Christmas decorations are still up).

Now, a few thoughts on this recipe....
  • the best pork chops I have ever tasted; they were juicy and flavorful
  • the apple rings were surprisingly a fabulous, tasty side dish.  Where the apples provided a slight sweetness to the chops, the chops gave a subtle saltiness to the apples
  • sauce was good, however......the sauce was 3/4 of the prep work and the chops stood on their own without the sauce
  • if I made the sauce again, I would use regular brandy.  Lovey and I were not fans of this apple brandy; at all.  It had a cross between a petroliate and licorice after taste; never picked up any apple taste.  It was not worth its cost and I don't think it added to the recipe.
Bottom line, the success of the pork chops does not depend on the sauce.  I would suggest you make the complete recipe with the sauce the first time around and decide for yourself.

French-Style Pork Chops and Apples
Serves 4
Adapted from the January-February 2015 issue of Cook's Illustrated

4 (12 to 14 ounce) bone-in pork rib chops, 1 inch thick
Kosher salt and pepper
4 Gala or Golden Delicious apples
2 slices bacon
3 shallots
Pinch ground nutmeg
1/2 cup Calvados or other brandy
1-3/4 cups apple cider
1-1/4 cups chicken broth
4 sprigs fresh thyme, plus 1/4 tsp. minced
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1/2 - 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Evenly sprinkle both sides of each chop with salt.  Place chops on large plate, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Peel and core the apples.  Cut 2 of the apples into 1/2-inch pieces.  Cut bacon into 1/2-inch pieces.  Peel and thinly slice the shallots. 

Cook the bacon in a medium saucepan over medium heat until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add the shallots, nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp. salt; cook, stirring frequently, until shallots are softened and beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes.  Off heat, add 1/4 cup Calvados and let warm through, about 5 seconds.  Wave lit match over pan until Calvados ignites, then shake pan gently to distribute flames.  When flames subside, 30 to 60 seconds, cover pan to ensure flame is extinguished, 15 seconds.  Add remaining 1/4 cup Calvados and repeat flambéing (flames will subside after 1-1/2 to 2 minutes).  (If you have trouble igniting second addition, return pan to medium heat, bring to bare simmer, and remove from heat and try again.)  Once flames have extinguished, increase heat to medium-high; add cider, 1 cup broth, thyme sprigs, butter, and chopped apples; bring to rapid simmer.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until apples are very tender and mixture has reduced to 2-1/3 cups, 25 to 35 minutes.  Cover and set aside.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300°F.  Slice remaining 2 apples into 1/2-inch-thick rings.  Pat chops dry with paper towels and evenly sprinkle each chop with pepper to taste.  Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until beginning to smoke.  Increase heat to high and brown chops on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes total.  Transfer chops to large plate and reduce heat to medium.  Add apple rings and cook until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes.  Add remaining 1/4 cup broth and cook, scraping up any browned bits with rubber spatula, until liquid has evaporated, about 30 seconds.  Remove pan from heat, flip apple rings, and place shops on top of apple rings.  Place skillet in oven and cook until chops register 135 to 140 degrees, 11 to 15 minutes.

Transfer chops and apple rings to serving platter, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.  While chops rest, strain apple/brandy mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into large bowl, pressing on solids with a rubber spatula to extract as much liquid as you can.  Discard the solids.  Stir in the minced thyme and season sauce with vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste.  Transfer sauce to a serving bowl or individual dipping bowls.

Serve shops and apple rings with the sauce on the side.