FORGET THE SHAKE AND THE BAKE
Progress isn’t always a good thing. In the old days, when pigs were fatty, pork chops could be pan-seared and served as is. They were loaded with flavor and there was little risk of them drying out. Unfortunately this simple preparation makes no sense with the chops sold in today’s supermarkets.
Farmers (OK, food manufacturers and scientists) have engineered the modern pig to be much leaner. In fact, today’s pork contains about half as much fat as our grandparents’ pork. This change is especially apparent in traditionally lean parts of the pig, like the loin. As a result, the modern pork chop (which typically comes from the loin) doesn’t have much flavor (remember fat equals flavor) and it tends to be dry and chewy (fat also lubricates meat and makes it more tender).
For many home cooks, the solution to this dilemma comes in a box. Coating the pork with seasoned bread crumbs adds much-needed flavor and the crisp coating protects against dryness. Or at least that’s how the recipe is supposed to work. But packaged breading mixes are marred by stale flavors. And opting for baking rather than pan-frying, as many cooks do, means that the coating is more sandy than crisp.
For a truly great breaded pork chop, we turn off the oven and get out a skillet. As for the coating, we have done some engineering of our own to build a better breading—one that is crisp and light, and stays in place. Best of all, it’s simple. Now that’s our idea of progress.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Lose the Bone
To keep these pork chops quick and easy to prepare, choose boneless loin chops instead of bone-in chops. Shallow frying these thin, tender chops takes just a few minutes per side.
Go Light and Crispy and Score
A breaded coating can be just the thing to give lean, bland pork chops a flavor boost—but not when it turns gummy and flakes off the meat. For a light, crisp coating, skip the usual flour and start with cornstarch, which releases sticky starch as it absorbs water and forms an ultracrisp sheath when exposed to heat and fat. Scoring the surface of the chops prior to dredging releases juices and sticky proteins that dampen the cornstarch and help the coating adhere.
Dip in Buttermilk
Instead of the typical egg wash, which puffs up when cooked and contributes to a heavier coating that pulls away from the meat, use buttermilk for the liquid component. It makes a lighter shell that clings nicely to the chops. And the buttermilk contributes a subtle tang, while a dollop of mustard and a little minced garlic perk up its flavor even more.
With buttermilk as the wash, bread crumbs don’t make sense for the final layer. Instead, use cornflakes, which are engineered to retain their crunch in milk. Mixing some cornstarch into the cornflake crumbs makes them even stronger and crispier.
Rest to Solidify the Coating
It is important to let the pork rest after breading and before cooking. Letting the chops sit for 10 minutes before they hit the oil gives the cornstarch more time to wick up moisture and turn into a stickier paste that remains intact during the cooking process.
A scored surface helps the coating cling for maximum crunch.
Crispy Pan-Fried Pork Chops
- 20 minutes to bread chops and let them rest
- 15 minutes to brown chops in 2 batches
- Paring knife to score surface of chops
- 3 shallow dishes for coating process
- Tongs for dipping chops in buttermilk and for frying
- Wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet
- Paper towels
Substitutions & Variations
- You can substitute ¾ cup store-bought cornflake crumbs for the whole cornflakes. If using crumbs, omit the processing step and mix the crumbs with the cornstarch, salt, and pepper.
- Although we prefer real buttermilk, even in the test kitchen we occasionally find ourselves without it. In a pinch, you can make a buttermilk substitute by mixing 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon lemon juice or distilled white vinegar.
- Add some hot sauce to the buttermilk mixture to spice things up. Dried herbs (oregano, sage, and thyme work well) can be added to the crumbs.
We prefer natural to enhanced pork (pork that has been injected with a salt solution to increase moistness and flavor) for this recipe. Don’t let the chops drain on the paper towels for longer than 30 seconds per side or the heat will steam the crust and make it soggy.
- ⅔ cup cornstarch
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 cups cornflakes
- Salt and pepper
- 8 (3- to 4-ounce) boneless pork chops ½ to ¾ inch thick, trimmed
- ⅔ cup vegetable oil
- Lemon wedges
- Place ⅓ cup cornstarch in shallow dish. In second shallow dish, whisk buttermilk, mustard, and garlic until combined. Process cornflakes, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and remaining ⅓ cup cornstarch in food processor until cornflakes are finely ground, about 10 seconds. Transfer cornflake mixture to third shallow dish.
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Cut ½-inch-deep slits on both sides of chops, spaced ½ inch apart, in crosshatch pattern. Season chops with salt and pepper. Dredge 1 chop in cornstarch; shake off excess. Using tongs, coat with buttermilk mixture; let excess drip off. Coat with cornflake mixture; gently pat off excess. Transfer coated chop to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and repeat with remaining chops. Let coated chops stand for 10 minutes.
- Heat ⅓ cup oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Place 4 chops in skillet and cook until golden brown and crisp, 2 to 5 minutes. Carefully flip chops and continue to cook until second side is golden brown, crisp, and chops register 145 degrees, 2 to 5 minutes longer. Transfer chops to paper towel–lined plate and let drain for 30 seconds on each side. Transfer to clean wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet, then transfer to oven to keep warm. Discard oil in skillet and wipe clean with paper towels. Repeat process with remaining oil and pork chops. Serve with lemon wedges.
CRISPY PAN-FRIED PORK CHOPS WITH LATIN SPICE RUB
Combine 1½ teaspoons ground cumin, 1½ teaspoons chili powder, ¾ teaspoon ground coriander, ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon, and ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes in bowl. Omit pepper; coat chops with spice rub after seasoning with salt in step 2.
CRISPY PAN-FRIED PORK CHOPS WITH THREE-PEPPER RUB
Combine 1½ teaspoons pepper, 1½ teaspoons white pepper, ¾ teaspoon ground coriander, ¾ teaspoon ground cumin, ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, and ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon in bowl. Omit pepper and coat chops with spice rub after seasoning with salt in step 2.
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