When I was a kid, I was not a fan of pork (unless it came in the form of bacon). No matter how well my dad prepared the pork, I just didn’t like it. I would have eaten all the broccoli in the world but fried pork chops just weren’t my thing.
And now, either because I’ve gotten older or learned to cook, they are sooooo my thing.
I mentioned to a chef at work that I wanted to learn how to fry pork chops, and he (vehemently) suggested that I brine them. I brined them the very first time I made pork chops, and I haven’t looked back since. They were that brilliant: cooked all the way through, but still juicy and tender; perfectly salted without being off-putting; flavorful, browned, and crispy, and drowning in a rich, brown gravy.
As you will soon find out (if you haven’t already), I’m a huge fan of cooking with booze. Any kind of pan sauce or gravy and there must be alcohol. For some reason, we always have sherry lying around, perhaps because we buy it and never drink it or cook with it (so why do we buy it in the first place?) The first time I did the pork chops, in order to save some money, I decided to pull out the sherry instead of buying a new bottle of wine or beer.
And I am glad I did. Compared to wine, sherry is super mellow, a little sweet, and still just as deliciously yeast-y. From now on, whenever I make a brown gravy with meat, I’ll be making it with sherry.
Thyme normally makes me think of chicken and cream sauce, but it pairs perfectly with the sherry in this gravy and adds a freshness to the salty pork chops.
Minus the tweaks in measurements and process, this is basically the first pork chop recipe I’ve ever made and I’ve been using the same flavor combinations for probably two years now. It’s just that good (but we all also know that I can’t not experiment, so there will be other pork chop recipes in the future.)
pan-fried boneless pork chops with thyme-sherry gravy
Note: The ratio for a pork brine is 16 parts water to 1 part salt, by volume, and you use enough water to cover all of your pork. You can brine the pork in a large pan, but I find it easier to use ziploc bags (you don’t need as much water, and you can keep them in the refrigerator more easily.) 1 quart of water will cover 1 lb of pork, and 1/16 of one quart is 1/4 cup. For one quart of water, use 1/4 cup of salt. You won’t need any more salt for the rest of the recipe, except possibly the gravy (but probably not.)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 c (2 oz) sea salt
2 Tbsp whole peppercorns
2 Tbsp (1 oz) granulated sugar
1 lb boneless pork chops
ground black pepper*
canola oil or olive oil for frying
*You won’t need any more salt for the cooking because the brine will have added plenty.
2 Tbsp (1 oz) butter or olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 c (2 oz) sherry
1 c chicken or vegetable stock
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves (about 4 sprigs)
salt and pepper as needed
brine the pork
The goal with the brine is: dissolve the salt and sugar into the water, but don’t cook the pork prematurely with boiling water.
Place the pork chops into ziploc bags with the fresh thyme sprigs.
In a small saucepan, combine the salt, sugar, peppercorns, and 2 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Boil until both the salt and the sugar are dissolved. The brine will very likely change color and look a little amber.
Combine the brine with the remaining 2 cups of cold water to bring down the temperature and pour the entire mixture into the bag with the pork and thyme.
Close the bag and let the pork brine for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour.
If you’re brining the pork more than ~2 hours before cooking, then keep it all in the refrigerator and pull it out about 1~2 hours before you’re ready to fry the pork. Have the pork on the counter for at least an hour before frying to let it come to room temperature.
cook the pork
Remove the pork chops from the brine (the brine can go down the drain or in the trash now), and lay them out between two sheets of paper towels to dry for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a skillet or saute pan (cast iron is best, but any other bare metal is good, too) on medium high and preheat the oven to 350 F*.
*If you’re using thin pork chops or if you pound them out, you won’t need the oven. For the small, thick boneless chops, you’ll need the oven for all of 5 minutes and no longer.
Once the pan is hot, add the vegetable oil and let it heat up for a few minutes, until it shimmers and runs as thin as water. You can test the oil by tilting the pan so that the oil pools around the rim, then sticking the handle of a wooden spoon into the pool of oil. If the oil is hot enough, the oil around the wooden handle will bubble. The oil will also shimmer and ripple on the surface, and if you swirl it around, it’ll be the consistency of water. It might even smoke a bit. You can heat it to the smoking point (unless it’s an unrefined oil, like extra virgin olive oil), or keep it just under the smoking point.
Place the pork chops into the pan: set them down gently, placing first the edge closest to you then the edge farthest from you to avoid splattering yourself with hot oil. You should hear the pork sizzle immediately. Make sure you don’t crowd the pan: it’s better to fry the pork in batches and spend more time on the searing than to try and fit all of the pork into the pan at once to speed up the process. It’s absolutely vital that the pork chops do not touch each other: leave at least 1-2 inches between each piece.
It doesn’t matter if you flip the pork chops multiple times or let them sear for 5 minutes on each side without any movement, as long as you don’t fuss with them too much between flipping. The constant and undisturbed contact between the protein/meat and the surface of the pan is how you get the best brown.
After placing the pork chops into the pan to sear the first side, sprinkle the crushed black pepper on the raw side. Once you flip the pork chops the first time, sprinkle the black pepper over the seared side. Black pepper burns easily, so the less you have floating around the pan, the better.
If you have thin pork chops, use a digital instant-read meat thermometer to test the temperature after the second side has been searing for 5 minutes. You can keep them frying and flipping until the internal temperature reaches 145 F**. If you have thick pork chops, you might need to finish them in the oven: transfer the seared meat to a baking sheet*, then place all of the meat in the oven. Take the temperature after 3-5 minutes. Once it reads 145 F, the meat is done.
**The safe temperature for whole pork is 145 F. For ground pork, where the likelihood of contamination inside the mixture is higher, the safe temperature is 165 F.
If all of your pork chops fit into your skillet at once without crowding each other, then save yourself a dish and just put the whole skillet in the oven.
As soon as the pork chops are out of your skillet, start on your gravy. The gravy only takes about 5 minutes.
make the gravy
Reheat the skillet on medium-low heat and add the butter or olive oil.
When the oil or butter is hot, add the minced garlic and saute for about 1 minute, until you can start to smell the garlic. Don’t let it brown too much or too quickly: the lower heat, the better, as long as the garlic is still able to cook.
Once the garlic is golden and you can smell it, whisk in the flour. The roux should be thick and pasty, but not too doughy. Cook the roux for about 1-2 minutes until it darkens a little bit.
Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the sherry. Whisk to fully combine the sherry and the roux and let the mixture bubble for about 1-2 minutes, until it thickens to a gravy-like consistency.
Whisk in about 1/3 of the stock until fully incorporated and bubbling. Taste the gravy at this point to see if it’s the right consistency (not pasty or floury, but not too thin), and the right flavor. Continue slowly incorporating the rest of the stock and testing for texture and flavor until it’s smooth and thick, but still gravy-like. Add salt and pepper to taste. If the gravy is too thin, let it bubble and thicken a bit. The finished gravy should coat the back of a metal or wooden spoon but not move when you run your finger through the gravy along the back of the spoon.
Once the gravy is finished, whisk in the fresh thyme and serve.
The pork chops and gravy keep for a few days in the refrigerator in an airtight container or plastic bag. Store them separately.