I’m on the fence about Cook’s Illustrated, the cooking magazine published by America’s Test Kitchen. On the one hand, their recipes work. They really work. Chris Kimball and his team of test cooks try just about every technique in and out of the book to achieve perfection.
Which they do . . . but on the other hand, they can also saddle the average home cook with a severe case of insecurity if he or she decides to cook something a different way.
However, they do come up with really ingenious ideas about how to get consistent and reliable results: flaky pastry? use vodka not water! perfectly cooked steaks with no gray ring of over-cooked protein? start them in the oven and then sear them in a hot pan!
Despite my reluctance to say that there is one and only one way to cook something and make it delicious, sometimes by doing it their way, you really learn and eat something wonderful.
When we got some nice thick-cut pork chops in our CSA share, I immediately thought that the best way to make their super-porky flavor shine would be to do it the Cook’s Illustrated way.
This is not really a recipe, but technique:
Start with your chops. You want wonderful, natural pork chops — not enhanced chops, which are pre-brined. You want them thick and meaty too, between 1/2 and 3/4 of an inch thick. Bone-in, of course. You want to make two perpendicular slits in the fatty edge of each chop. This will prevent your pork chops from curling up as they cook. Rub them on both sides with some nice olive oil. Cook’s Illustrated recommends you sprinkle some sugar on both sides along with your seasoning, but I’ve forgotten sometimes and had it still turn out fine.
If you have an electric hob, turn it on now to medium heat, but don’t put the pan on the burner just yet. You don’t need to do this if you have a gas range.
You want to start them in a cold pan. That’s right. A cold pan. Press the chops down in the pan to make sure that the whole underside of the chop is in contact with its surface.
Now, put the pan on the burner. Turn the heat on to medium. Leave them alone and cook them until they are lightly browned, about 4-9 minutes depending on the thickness of your pork chops. Doing it this way doesn’t get the nice brown crust that starting pork chops off in a hot pan does, but you do get amazingly juicy and evenly-cooked meat. Be sure to listen for gentle sizzling. If your pork chops aren’t gently sizzling, your heat is too low.
Flip your chops over. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. The second side will not be as brown as the first. You want to cook your chop until the internal temperature registers 140° — perfectly safe, and perfectly pinkish. Start checking the temperature after 2 minutes, or if you have one of those leave-in thermometers, insert it into the center of the chop and set the timer to go off at 140°.
Remove the pork chops from the pan and let rest for 5 minutes, just enough time to make a quick pan sauce.