Some years ago, pork producers altered their breeding and feeding techniques to yield leaner meat. That's a nutritional plus, but it makes it a challenge keep pork chops from drying out during cooking.
One strategy is to brine the meat first. Soaked in a solution of water, salt and sometimes sugar, the pork absorbs moisture that stays with it during cooking.
To brine four chops, for example, combine 3/4 cup brown sugar,1/4 cup kosher salt and 6 cups water in a self-sealing, gallon-size food bag. Add the chops, and refrigerate for one to four hours. Pat them dry and season with pepper before cooking. (Choose bone-in center or rib chops that are 1-1/4 to 1- 1/2 inches thick for the best flavor and uniform cooking.)
Cook the chops over medium-high heat until they are nicely browned on both sides, taking care not to overcook. Once the chops register 140 to 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally in the thickest part, remove them from the pan. Tent with foil about 10 minutes before serving. The internal temperature will rise a few degrees, yielding perfectly moist pork.
Brining is not necessary for braised pork chops because they are cooked in liquid at a low temperature for an extended period. It's not advisable, either, because the retained brining liquid would make the pan sauce or gravy too salty.
Braised pork chops cook until they are tender enough to cut with a fork, and the braising liquid turns into a delicious sauce that you'll want to soak up with mashed potatoes or crusty bread.
GRANNY'S BRAISED SUNDAY SMOTHERED PORK CHOPS
I adapted this recipe from Carla Hall's charming new book, "Cooking with Love: Comfort Food that Hugs You" (Atria, $30). Because the chops braise in Worcestershire- and mustard-spiked stock, no brining is required. Serve with mashed potatoes, your favorite summer vegetable and a chilled glass of amber ale.
4 bone-in pork loin chops (about 1- 1/2 inches thick)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup canola or other neutral oil
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 cup homemade or low-sodium chicken stock
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon ground allspice
Rinse the pork chops and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the salt and pepper all over the chops, then dredge in flour to lightly coat. Reserve the remaining flour.
In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add two of the pork chops and cook, turning once, until well browned, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chops to a plate. Repeat with the remaining chops.
Add the onions and garlic to the fat in the pan and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low and add the reserved flour. Cook, stirring, until it begins to brown, about 8 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine the stock, Worcestershire, vinegar, mustard, molasses, and allspice with 1 cup water. Add to the pan and stir until well incorporated. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to maintain a simmer.
Return the pork chops and their accumulated juices to the pan. Cover and simmer until the chops are very tender, about 45 minutes, turning them halfway through cooking. Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 300 calories (37 percent from fat), 12g fat (1.9 g saturated, 6.4 g monounsaturated), 86 mg cholesterol, 28 g protein, 18g carbohydrates, 1.3 g fiber, 758 mg sodium.