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Today’s pork chops are nothing like the bland, dry, chewy meat many people remember from years ago. These days, those descriptors are just as outdated as those dry pork chops that were served at the family dinner table. As a result, pork chops are making a comeback.
Now, with new breeds and flavorful cooking techniques, pork chops are a juicy and succulent item that can be a star entrée on lunch and dinner menus across many different cuisines. These improvements have led to a resurgence of this traditional entrée and forays into new twists on the classic.
One of the key reasons why pork chops are experiencing a renaissance is that heritage breed pigs are now available that make for tastier pork products. This means that chefs can add pork chops to the menu without worrying about them being the tasteless meat of memory.
“These breeds have very specific flavor profiles that come from the intramuscular fat content, which yields a more flavorful and juicy finished product,” says Chef Richard Ginn, founder of Chefs & Company and chef instructor at Wooden Spoon.
Cuts from heritage breeds have increased marbling over other breeds, leading to a naturally better-tasting product that can stand up to a variety of cooking methods and treatments.
“From a chef’s perspective, I believe pork is one of the most flavorful and versatile cuts,” Ginn says. “The quality of pork always is king, followed by brining and cooking to the correct minimum internal temperature.”
Yet some chefs and consumers have concerns about pork chops seeming dated in their classic presentation on a menu. Traditionally served center of the plate with mashed potatoes or another side, pork chops have seemed too safe for today’s consumers who expect variety on menus and too constricting for chefs who want to serve creative dishes.
This idea is also outdated, as pork chops are actually very versatile. The meat takes flavor well, and it is already authentically served in a variety of ethnic cuisines, making pork chops a natural fit in today’s increasingly global restaurant scene.
No longer only an option for the center of the plate, pork is now used in new dishes and locations on the plate. As chefs look for new and exciting ways to serve them, pork chops may be a good fit for chefs experimenting with new techniques, flavor profiles, and presentations.
“Operators should consider adding pork chops to their menu because of their versatility,” Ginn says. “Pork can be used in place of traditional chicken recipes, such as chicken Parmesan, or even sliced and served with a lunch salad.”
New pork chop treatments are also spreading into other types of dishes. In addition to traditional center of the plate pork chops, one Chicago restaurant called Porkchop serves a pork chop sandwich and the Porkchop House Salad with the meat served on a bed of mixed greens, corn, beans, cheese, tortilla strips, and ranch dressing.
Even beyond flavor and versatility, pork chops are also a benefit to busy kitchens that still want to add variety to their menus. Because these pork chops retain so much flavor, chefs can prepare them very easily and quickly to fit a variety of concepts and flavor profiles. This allows restaurants to add pork chops without putting too much strain on the kitchen. Ginn suggests that busy operators can simply brine pork and cook it for a delicious dish.
But concepts looking to elevate pork chops are able to create unique dishes. Mimi’s Café began offering a Honey Lavender Grilled Pork Chop in September, which was selected as winner for a competition to design a new dish for the chain.
Chef Isaac Toups, “fan favorite” on BRAVO’s “Top Chef,” is also adding pork chops to the menu at his second New Orleans restaurant, Toups South. There he is menuing a Fried Pork Chops Stack, which features a tower of bone-in pork chops lightly breaded, skewered with a steak knife, and served with coffee aioli, pickled summer squash, and white bread.
No matter whether they are served on a plate or in a tower, pork chops can be a budget-friendly addition to many menus. As beef prices continue to grow, pork price increases have been much smaller and offer much higher profit margins.
“Pork can and should be the majority protein on your menu,” Ginn says. “No other protein is more cost effective or versatile.”
From profit margins to taste and ease of use, there are many reasons why chefs are updating this classic to meet modern menu demands. As chefs continue to experiment with this protein and make creative new twists, the popularity of pork chops will also continue to grow.
Recipe for Breaded Pork Chops with Fusilli
This recipe makes the perfect lunch or dinner entrée for two.
Pork Chop Ingredients:
- 2 boneless 6-ounce Chop Shop pork chops
- 1 cup flour
- 3 eggs, whisked with 2 tbsp of water
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 2 tbsp Parmesan, grated
- 1 tsp parsley, chopped
- 1 tsp basil, chopped
- 3 cups cooked fusilli pasta
- 2 cups Amatriciana sauce (recipe below)
- 1 lemon, zested
Salt and pepper to taste
Amatriciana Sauce Ingredients:
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- 4 oz pancetta, sliced in ¼ inch strips
- ½ red onion, sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced
- ½ tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
In a sauté pan over medium heat, heat the oil and render pancetta until crispy and reserve. Add the red onion and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, or until translucent. Add garlic, and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add crushed red pepper and tomatoes, and reduce until thick, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and season pork chops with salt and pepper.
2. In a shallow dish, place flour, and in another, place eggs. In a third shallow dish, place breadcrumbs, Parmesan, parsley, and basil. Add the pork to flour, then eggs, and then the breadcrumb mixture.
3. In a skillet over medium heat, fry the pork chops until they reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. In a bowl, combine the Amatriciana sauce with cooked fusilli pasta and place the mixture in an oven-proof baking dish. Top the Amatriciana mixture with more grated Parmesan, and bake the pasta for 15 minutes or until warmed through and cheese is melted.
5. On serving platters, plate baked pasta and top with sliced pork. Garnish with shaved Parmesan and lemon zest.
By Peggy Carouthers