I'm always looking for easy dinners to pull together during holiday shopping and entertaining madness. Pork chops are perfect for quick meals since they don't take long to prepare. They come from the loin portion of the pig and are available boned and with the bone attached. I prefer the center cut rib chop with the bone attached because the bone adds more moisture to the meat when you cook it; and it also looks pretty. These chops are sauteed and finished with an apple and dried fruit sauce that is as delicious as it is easy to prepare.
If you can find Kurobuta pork chops, they are worth the extra price tag. Kurobuta (Japanese black hog) pork, bred from Berkshire stock, is prized for its dark meat and rich flavor. American Kurobuta pork is lean, yet still has small, fine streaks of marbling that produce a sweet, tender and juicy result. You can usually find this variety at fine supermarkets or meat markets. For more information on Kurobuta pork, check out these snakeriverfarms.com or lobels.com.
While many recipes suggest cooking pork to an interior temperature of 160 F, I have found that is a simply too high. The pork should be slightly pink and at 145 F for both optimum flavor and texture. Trichinosis, a parasite found in pork, dies at 137 F so cooking past that temperature should assure you that your dish would be safe as well as delicious.
Serve these chops with simple buttered noodles, spaetzle or roasted potatoes. A California zinfandel, a gewürztraminer or a big chardonnay would make a nice wine accompaniment.
--The chops will continue to cook another 5 degrees after you take them off the heat so don't overcook them.
--This is best prepared just before serving.
Pork Chops with Apple and Dried Fruit Sauce
For the sauce:
1 cup diced dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup apple juice
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 leeks, white and light green part, cleaned and finely chopped
1 medium Gala or Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 cup beef or chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the pork chops:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons oil
6 center cut pork chops with bone on, 1 1/2 inches thick about 3/4 pound each
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup apple brandy
2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, for garnish
1. To start the sauce: Bring the dried fruit, apple juice and water to a boil on high heat. Remove from the heat and let soften for 10 minutes.
2. In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of butter on medium-high heat. Saute the leeks for about 5 to 7 minutes or until softened and lightly browned. Add the apple pieces and saute another 2 to 3 minutes or until nicely coated. Add the softened fruit mixture and broth. Simmer on medium heat for 5 more minutes or until slightly thickened. Add salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. Reserve.
3. In another large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of butter and the 2 tablespoons of oil in the pan on medium-high heat. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. Saute the chops for about 5 minutes and then turn over with tongs. Continue cooking until browned and just cooked through, about another 3 minutes. Place the chops on a platter and cover with foil.
4. Discard the drippings. Over medium heat (with the overhead fan turned off), add the apple brandy to the pan and deglaze the pan by scraping up the brown bits. Add the reserved fruit sauce and mustard, and bring to a simmer, stirring, for 3 minutes (or until the alcohol has burned off). Add salt and pepper and taste for seasoning.
5. Return the pork chops to the pan and spoon sauce over the chops. Braise for about 3 more minutes or until the pork is heated through but still tender. Garnish with parsley, and serve immediately.
(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including "Seriously Simple Parties," and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)