Pork Chops with Apple and Cider

The weather has turned colder and the grocery store is full of the newly harvested apples. Growing up in the Mojave desert in California we had red apples and yellow apples. Now we live in apple heaven – I think Washington – to our north – is famous for them. We are doubly fortunate that our local grocery store – New Seasons – is a fantastic place for produce. I imagine there are a dozen varieties on sale. Envy’s are my go-to all winter long. I cheer when they first appear and mourn their passing in Spring.

So, it was the perfect opportunity to enjoy a fall meal: pork and apples. I found a simple recipe for pork chops, parsnips, and apples all roasted on a sheet pan. But I wanted something with a sauce. A New York Times recipe hit my inbox and I was in.

As I put together the shopping list I started to have second thoughts. My wheelhouse of flavor runs toward garlic, and a mirepoix of onion, carrots, and celery (or bell pepper) and herbs of rosemary and/or thyme. This recipe has sage, cloves, and allspice berries.

Salt, peppercorns, cloves, allspice berries and sage.

The cloves and allspice berries are fragrant. But in for a penny in for a dollar. I roughly chopped the sage and put everything except the salt into our spice grinder (although a mortar and pestle would have worked and might have been easier to clean).

Peppercorns, cloves, allspice berries and sage ready to be pulverized together.

The second thing that gave me pause was the hard apple cider. I’ve never liked apple juice or apple cider – even as a kid. Why on earth would I use it for cooking? I use regular apple juice as part of a Texas crutch when smoking pulled pork so maybe it would work. After all apples and pork was what I was looking for; so let’s go for it.

Hard apple cider will be used in the sauce.

Here is the whole set of ingredients. I used a Fuji and an Honeycrisp apple.

Ingredients for pork chops, apples, and cider.

The first step is to apply the spice rub to the pork. The recipe calls for 6 x ½-inch boneless pork chops. When I got home I realized these were a full inch thick. I’d have to make some adjustments to the cooking times. I used four of the chops and will use the last two next week.

Pork chops ready for their rub.

Rub the chops and let them sit at room temperature for 40 minutes.

Rubbed pork chops with their dry-brine.

It was time to start the actual cooking. I turned the oven on to 200° (F) to keep things warm and help finish the thick pork chops. After slicing the apples into 12 wedges apiece I gently browned them in melted butter.

Flipping 24 hot apple slices is easier said than done. They pan was much too hot to use my fingers so I had to use a combination of tongs and a spatula. But I got it done, put them on a plate and stashed in the warm oven. It smelled like apple pie.

Next up, the pork chops. the idea is to cook them gently on the stove then finish in the oven. Now, the recipe was a little vague on that so I had to read between the lines. Plus, with chops twice as thick as called for, I would have to cook them a bit more. I bumped the oven up to 225° hoping it would help without destroying those beautiful apples.

Pork chops gently browning.

To be honest they got a little browner on the first side (the picture above shows the second side after I flipped them back for the picture). But it wasn’t terrible. After the chops were partially cooked, they went into the oven and I started on the sauce.

The first step is to deglaze the pan with the apple cider and simmer until the liquid turns into a syrup. After it thickened a bit – I don’t know if it qualified as “syrup”. I added a bit of Dijon mustard and some homemade chicken stock and whisked.

This recipe calls for two ingredients that I don’t normally have on hand. The first is potato starch – used to thicken the sauce. I’m (gently) kicking myself for buying a large bag of potato starch for this recipe. I’ve got a container of corn starch I use for thickening sauces. They are fairly similar; although, if potato starch is best suited for adding at the end of the cooking process. If you make this dish, I think it is okay to stick with the corn starch you most likely have in your pantry.

The second unusual ingredient is creme fraiche which is added at the end to finish the sauce. It’s kind of like sour cream only different. I’m fine with using creme fraiche instead of sour cream. Creme fraiche has more fat – 30% to sour cream’s 20% – making it thicker and richer. It’s less tangy than sour cream and won’t curdle if you boil it. Here is the sauce.

Beautiful sauce for the pork chops.

Finally we add a couple of tablespoons of the hard cider to add some brightness. Optionally you can also add apple brandy ; I passed on that, it’s not something I see my self using much.

Now it’s time to bring it all together. After checking the internal temperature of the pork chops to make sure they were ready, I staged the three components: apples, pork chops, and sauce.

Dinner ready to come together.

Put the chops on a platter, spoon some sauce over it, and scatter the apples around the side.

Pork chops with apples and a cider sauce.

Dinner is served – we had toast and peas on the side.

Dinner is served: pork chops, apples, with a cider sauce.

Spices and and herb I don’t normally use, hard apple cider which I really don’t care for, and a recipe that wasn’t as clear as I’m used to; how did it turn out? Terrific. I like this way of cooking pork chops. Gently sautéing them and finishing in the oven leaves them very moist. And that sauce is so, so good. This is a perfect Fall dinner. And it’s really not as hard as I may have led on. Truth be told, almost all the things I cook are pretty darn easy.

Rating: ★★ Want a nice Fall dinner? Make this. It’s good enough for company (if we ever get to have company over for dinner) and perfect for this time of year. We’ll have it later in the year.

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