There are four common cuts of pork that we refer to as pork chops -- sirloin, blade, rib, which is similar to a rib-eye steak, and center cut which resembles a T-bone steak. But, did you know the American way of cutting up pork is not universal>
The French render pork into 17 cuts, the British nine and the Americans use eight, so when traveling don't always expect to find cuts that you are familiar with.
Interestingly, pork has only two USDA grades; acceptable and utility. Acceptable is what you find at the grocery store and utility is used only in processed products.
If you want a superior quality of pork there are specialty companies that offer the best that can be found, but expect to pay premium prices. Allen Brother's in Chicago and Lobel's of New York are thought of as among the best, but there are many other good ones as well.
The Berkshire pig is thought by many people to be the best for flavor, tenderness and juiciness, although the Tamworth, Gloucestershire Old Spots and Yorkshire also are popular. How the animal was raised also affects the quality, with pasture raised on natural foods being better than penned and grained.
Wherever you buy pork, make sure it is firm, pink and odorless. Remember that fat marbling affects flavor, but increases the calorie count.
The number of ways to prepare pork chops is almost without reckoning. The French almost always cook them in butter it seems and there is nothing wrong with that in moderation.
Chops can be fried, roasted, grilled and stuffed, but caution should be used as when overcooked they become dry and uninteresting.
The Italians are fond of pairing chops with Gorgonzola cheese, adorning them with a cream and port sauce and serving them in butter and sage.
Pork chops also pair well with fruit and mashed potatoes, polenta and many other vegetables.
SIMPLE SOUTHERN-FRIED PORK CHOP
1 bone-in pork chop per person
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour
Tony Chachere's seasoning
Fresh ground black pepper
Put the flour in a mixing bowl
and season aggressively with Tony's and black pepper. If you like a little zip, add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper. Pour the butter milk into another mixing bowl. Using bowls larger than you think necessary will take some of the mess out of the process. Let the chops rest in the buttermilk for 10 minutes or so, remove, shake off excess and then toss in the seasoned flour (use a large plastic bag or even a paper sack to save a lot of clean up). Heat a large sauté pan to medium hot and fry the chops until golden brown and crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes on a side. Serve with collard greens and mashed potatoes or rice. If you want to make pan gravy, deglaze the sauté pan with a little milk or cream, season and thicken to your liking.
VIETNAMESE GRILLED PORK CHOP
This is a classic Vietnamese take on pork chops and if you haven't tried them at your local Vietnamese restaurant you are really missing something. This recipe is courtesy of Jennifer Nguyn of the Phi Long Noodle House in D'Iberville, Miss.
1 rib or center-cut pork chop per person, thin cut
3-4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons chopped lemongrass
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 can coconut flavored soda (try to find Coco Rico)
2-3 pinches black pepper
Combine the garlic, lemongrass, soy sauce, fish sauce, pepper and sugar in a blender and blend smooth, remove to a large bowl and mix in the soda. Marinate the chops in the mixture for at least 1 hour. Grill the chops over medium heat for 6-8 minutes or until just done. Serve with steamed jasmine rice and a fresh green salad.
1 boneless pork chop per person
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 strip diced bacon
1/4 cup chopped onions
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 pinches thyme
Sale and pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup cream
Using a meat mallet pound the chops as thin as you can get them. Place the eggs and bread crumbs in separate mixing bowls, but season the eggs with salt and pepper. Give the chops a milk bath, followed by a dip in the bread crumbs, shake off the excess and sauté in a medium hot pan with plenty of oil. In a separate pan sauté the bacon until crispy, remove and set aside. Sauté the mushrooms in the same pan until they give off their liquid, remove and set aside. Add the onions and cook until soft, add the wine and reduce by one half. Then add the tomato paste, thyme, paprika, mushrooms bacon and cream, simmer until it has thickened. When the chops are a beautiful brown, about 3 minutes on a side, remove and top with the sauce. If you want to keep it German serve with Spätzle, a delicious egg noodle.