Maple twist improves Southern smothered pork chops

Smothered pork chops, browned and bathed in a savory sauce, are the epitome of Southern comfort food. (Dreamstime/TNS)
Smothered pork chops, browned and bathed in a savory sauce, are the epitome of Southern comfort food. (Dreamstime/TNS)

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 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.

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.

Maple mustard smothered pork chops

Serves four.

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup, plus ½ tsp. kosher salt, divided

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

½ cup all-purpose flour

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

¼ tsp. black pepper

3 cups chicken stock

2 tbsp. Dijon mustard

2 tbsp. pure maple syrup

2 tbsp. chopped parsley

Mashed potatoes, buttered noodles or rice, for serving

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 one hour or up to four 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 four minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Add the onions, garlic, pepper and remaining ½ 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 one 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 five to eight minutes. Transfer to a platter. Let rest 10 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve with mashed potatoes, rice or buttered noodles.

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