Friday, October 22, 2010

A Simple Weeknight Pork Chop with Mustard & Apples

Everyone needs a collection of recipes that will allow them to have dinner on the table within 45 minutes or so of walking in the door in the evening. At our house, this usually means pasta...or maybe a salad. But last week I rediscovered an old favorite pork chop recipe that can easily be prepared in the aforementioned time frame.

When I arrived home after my week away with my friends, it was dinner time and this pork chop recipe was already in process in our kitchen. The original recipe (from Simple French Food) instructs you to bake the browned pork on a bed of apples in heavy cream mixed with a little Dijon and reduced white wine. The lack of cream in our kitchen had not been discovered until the dish was already started. So, while the pork chop sizzled away in the pan, I looked around for some alternatives.

We happened to have some fresh pressed apple cider on hand, so I altered the recipe to use the cider. I liked the resulting dish a lot. It is light, the flavors are clean and it is so easy that anyone can make it. And since in the fall we almost always have apples and cider on hand, it's an easy "pantry" dinner that will probably be making regular appearances on our dinner table.

I have shared the recipe as I made it—with just one pork chop. But you could easily adjust the recipe for as many pork chops as you want to cook—just increase the other ingredients accordingly and choose a casserole or gratin that will hold all of the chops comfortably. Depending on your tastes and appetite, one large pork chop will serve one or two. In my house, it serves two.

Since one of the selling points for this recipe is how quick and easy it is to prepare, choose side dishes that can also be easily cooked in the amount of time it takes to prepare the pork and apples. Rice is a good choice, as are mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes. There are many green vegetables that will cook quickly and would make a fine accompaniment...blanched broccoli, green beans, or Brussels sprouts...wilted Swiss Chard or Spinach....

Apple Cider-Baked Pork Chop

1 large or 2 small apples—about 1/2 lb. (I like Jonathon or Golden Delicious, but any flavorful apple that holds its shape when cooked will work)
Unsalted butter
1 8- to 10-oz. boneless pork loin chop—you can also use one on the bone, it will just take longer to cook
Salt & pepper
Dijon Mustard to taste
1/4 to 1/3 cup apples cider

Butter a small casserole (I use a 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-quart shallow gratin). Peel and core the apple(s). Slice 1/4-inch thick and spread in the prepared gratin.

Place in a 400° oven and bake for 15 minutes—the apples should be just beginning to give up some juice.

Season the pork with salt & pepper. While the apples cook, brown the pork in a little butter—about 7 to 8 minutes per side.

When the apples are done, spread a thin film of mustard all over the pork chop and set it on top of the apples. Deglaze the pan the pork was cooked in with the cider, scraping to release the caramelized bits on the bottom of the pan and reducing slightly. Pour the reduced cider over the apples and return the casserole to the oven.

Continue to cook until the pork chop is done to your liking. I cook mine to about 135° to 138°--it will still be juicy if removed at this point. Cooking time will be about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the pork chop.

Set the pork chop on a plate and allow it to rest for about 5 minutes. While the pork chop rests, scrape the apples into the pan that you used to brown the pork. If the apples have released a lot of liquid, or the cider hasn't reduced sufficiently during the baking process, bring the apples to a simmer to allow the liquid to reduce a bit. Depending on the apples you chose to use, you may end up with a loose compote of apples or a rustic and chunky savory applesauce.  You may not wish to reduce the apple compote at all.  If this is the case, simply reheat when ready to serve the pork.   In any case, don't forget to add the pork resting juices to the apples when you reheat them.

To serve the pork, slice thinly on an angle and fan on one or two serving plates. Serve the apples under, on the side or over the pork (depending on their final consistency and look). If you prefer to serve family style, lay the sliced pork back in the casserole and top with the warmed apples. Serves 1 or 2.

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