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Improve pork chops with maple

By Meredith Deeds, Star Tribune
Published: April 10, 2024, 6:04am

Smothered pork chops, browned and bathed in a savory sauce, are the epitome of Southern comfort food.

You can “smother” almost any protein. In fact, the French word for smothered is étouffée, and in New Orleans, shrimp is often the protein of choice.

For this week’s recipe, we’re going with the often-used pork chops, and to ensure those pork chops are juicy and tender at the end of the cooking process, I’m taking a few important steps.

First, I brine the chops in a simple mixture of salt and sugar. The brine not only infuses flavor, it also changes the structure of the muscle proteins, allowing them to hold on to more moisture when exposed to heat.

The second step is to brown the chops first, then transfer them to a plate while allowing the sauce to simmer long enough to deepen its flavor.

The pork chops are returned just in time to cook to their desired doneness. The USDA now tells us that 145 degrees is safe for cooked pork, which is more a pinkish medium than well done.

I cook these pork chops to 140 degrees, because they will continue to cook while the chops rest. Which brings me to my last tip: Let the chops rest before serving. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat so they don’t all spill out with the first cut.

While this dish is iconic, I did take a few liberties when it comes to the sauce.

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Typically, the sauce includes mushrooms as well the onions, and often gets a splash of heavy cream.

For this recipe, I skip the mushrooms and heighten the sweetness of the onions with a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup.

Dijon mustard balances out the sauce perfectly, keeping it from wandering too far into the sweet category.

I like to serve this with mashed potatoes to make sure I take advantage of every drop of the addictive sauce, but rice or buttered noodles would also be a delicious choice.

Maple Mustard Smothered Pork Chops

Serves 4. This comfort food classic has a just a hint of sweet and sour thanks to Dijon mustard and maple syrup. From Meredith Deeds.

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

4 (1-in. thick) bone-in pork chops

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

3 cup chicken stock

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoon maple syrup

2 tablespoon chopped parsley

Mashed potatoes, noodles or rice

Mix 3 cups water, sugar and ¹/3 cup salt together in a large bowl until dissolved. Place pork chops in brine mixture, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Remove chops from brine and pat dry with paper towels.

Dredge the chops in the flour, shaking off the excess. Reserve the leftover flour.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the pork chops and cook until they are browned, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Add the onions, garlic, pepper and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Add 2 tablespoons of reserved dredging flour to the onions and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the stock, mustard and maple syrup, stirring and scraping the pan well, until the mixture has come to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

Return chops and any accumulated liquid to the pot and bring to back a simmer. Cook undisturbed until sauce has reached gravy consistency and a thermometer inserted into thickest portion of pork registers 140 degrees, about 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a platter. Let rest 10 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve with mashed potatoes, rice or buttered noodles.