Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Crispy, Crunchy, Yummy

I grew up eating hearty, Midwestern meals of pot roast, meatloaf, roast chicken and pork chops. Ugh, pork chops. For some reason, my wonderful cook of a mother just could never get these right. I also grew up in a Clean Your Plate kind of house so tough and chewy pork chops sometimes left me chewing for some time after dinner was over. I know, double Eeew. I'd say for most of my adult life then, I've avoided cooking the other white meat.

We're riding a healthy cooking wave in this house and I've been sticking to lean protein sources, so when Cooks Illustrated featured a recipe for a crunchy baked pork chop (in the magazine, not my recipe testing thing so I'm allowed to share this one) I thought I'd give it a whirl. I contemplated making it for weeks before I actually cooked it because I think I was still a little leery and it included a few extra steps that made it seem fussy. Hey, I'm all for fussy recipes, but I had fallen in the rut of Quick and Easy since The Boss wants to be all up in my bizness all the time. As soon as she can stand on a step stool next to me at the counter, my cooking life will be much easier. The good news is that she seems so interested and they say kids who participate in food preparation are more willing to eat what is prepared. But I digress. If you are like me and have a little one between your feet most of the time, split this recipe up and prepare it in steps when you have time instead of making it all at once.

The Twists and Turns (the breadcrumbs and other coatings)--
I've always had some issue with those cannisters of seasoned breadcrumbs. Of course, I've used them but they aren't something I stock regularly. I was really happy to see this recipe called for homemade breadcrumbs (no, don't run away at the thought of doing this) and intrigued by the mixture this recipe called for. Let me tell you, once I took them out of the oven, I could have stopped right there. Forget the meat, these smelled so good I didn't want to go on. But I did, because I was committed to get a nice dinner on the table and a wholesome dinner is not comprised of spoonfuls of breadcrumbs. I ended up using whole wheat bread for the crumbs because that's what I had and I'm sure it didn't make that big of a difference. The difference is simply making your own and you won't go back to the canister after you've made these.

As with most breaded cuts of meat, you do a flour coat and then an egg wash coat before rolling in the breading. The interesting part of this recipe is that the egg wash is made simply of egg whites, dijon mustard and a little white flour. this made a really nice and thick coating for the breadcrumbs to adhere to. This also added a lot of flavor and kept the meat moist.

A note on keeping it crunchy: make sure you bake the pork chops on a wire rack over a cookie sheet to ensure both sides of your chop remains crisp. You won't believe these weren't fried!

I served this with baked sweet potatoes and steamed green beans because we're keeping it healthy, kids!

Crunchy Baked Pork Chops
source: Cooks Illustrated

Table salt
4 boneless center-cut pork chops, 6 to 8 ounces each, 3/4 to 1 inch thick, trimmed of excess fat
4 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Ground black pepper
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup plus 6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3 large egg whites
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Lemon wedges

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Dissolve 1/4 cup salt in 1 quart water in medium container or gallon-sized zipper-lock bag. Submerge chops, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes. Rinse chops under cold water and dry thoroughly with paper towels.

2. Meanwhile, pulse bread in food processor until coarsely ground, about eight 1-second pulses. Transfer crumbs to rimmed baking sheet and add shallot, garlic, oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Toss until crumbs are evenly coated with oil. Bake until deep golden brown and dry, about 15 minutes, stirring twice during baking time. (Do not turn off oven.) Cool to room temperature. Toss crumbs with Parmesan, thyme, and parsley.

3. Place 1/4 cup flour in pie plate. In second pie plate, whisk egg whites and mustard until combined; add remaining 6 tablespoons flour and whisk until almost smooth, with pea-sized lumps remaining.

4. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees. Spray wire rack with nonstick cooking spray and place in rimmed baking sheet. Season chops with pepper. Dredge 1 pork chop in flour; shake off excess. Using tongs, coat with egg mixture; let excess drip off. Coat all sides of chop with bread crumb mixture, pressing gently so that thick layer of crumbs adheres to chop. Transfer breaded chop to wire rack. Repeat with remaining 3 chops.

5. Bake until instant-read thermometer inserted into center of chops registers 150 degrees, 17 to 25 minutes. Let rest on rack 5 minutes before serving with lemon wedges.


Anna said...

Have you seen that Montessori gigantic stepstool thing? It costs a lot of money, but it provides a stable place for toddlers and preschoolers to stand, plus you can use it as a fort, puppet theatre, etc.

Henry could care less about the cooking, but he's taken a fancy to the oven lately....I need to get a lock.

Michelle said...

oh, I'll have to check that out. Right now I just give her a pot and a spoon to play with on the floor!