January 18, 2012

Sauteed not Fried

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Margaret's Morsels | Sauteed Pork Chops

Last week, I posted a recipe for Baked Mozzarella Cheese Sticks.  I thought I'd stick with the healthier cooking theme and share a recipe that, instead of being baked, is sauteed.

The first time I fixed Sauteed Pork Chops for my mother, she was concerned the pork chops hadn't cooked long enough to be completely done.  After tasting them, she agreed that, not only were they done, they were delicious!

Saute means to cook food quickly in a small amount of fat over moderately high heat.  It's similar to pan frying, but uses less fat and cooks the food quicker.  The high heat serves two purposes.  One, it quickly browns the outside of the food.  Two, it allows the food to cook faster which prevents the inside from drying out.

There's four things to remember when you saute pork chops:

  • Let the pork chops sit at room temperature 30 minutes before they're cooked.  Food that's at room temperature cooks more evenly than cold food.

Margaret's Morsels | Sauteed Pork Chops

  • Pat the pork chops dry with paper towels.  Food that's wet steams rather than sautes.
  • Don't overcrowd the pan.  Overcrowding prevents food from browning.  I cook four pork chops at a time in a 12-inch skillet. If you're using a smaller pan or cooking more pork chops, use a second pan or cook the pork chops in batches, reheating the pan and adding more oil as needed.
  • Don't turn the pork chops over with a fork.  Piercing meat with a fork lets the juices escape.  Use tongs instead.
When it comes to the oil you use, it's imperative to choose one that has a high smoke point -- the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke and gives food an unpleasant flavor -- because you don't want the oil to smoke. Different oils have different smoke points.  I use canola, but other oils with high smoke points include grapeseed, peanut, safflower and soybean.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to heating the pan.  Some recipes call for the pan to be heated before the oil is added.  Other recipes, like the one I'm sharing today, call for the pan and oil to be heated at the same time.  I use whichever method is called for in the recipe.

Put the oil in the skillet and heat it over a strong medium-high heat.  I rely on my senses, specifically hearing, seeing and feeling, to know when the oil is hot enough to add the pork chops.

Listen to the sounds coming from the pan.  If you hear splattering and popping, the oil is too hot.  Look at the oil periodically while it heats.  You do not want to see smoke.  You want to see the oil go from this:

Margaret's Morsels | Sauteed Pork Chops

to this:

Margaret's Morsels | Sauteed Pork Chops

The oil will start to shimmer which indicates it's just below the smoke point. As the oil heats, periodically place your hand a few inches over the hot oil. When you can't leave your hand over the oil for very long, the oil is ready.

When you cook pork chops or any piece of meat, cook the nicest looking side -- known in the culinary world as the presentation side -- first.  In other words, when you put the meat in the skillet, put the presentation side down.  The coloring is more attractive on the presentation side which makes the food look nicer when it is plated.

The rest of the recipe is pretty straightforward.  When the oil is hot, put the pork chops -- presentation side down -- in the pan and cook one minute. Turn the pork chops over and cook the other side one minute.  Reduce the heat to medium; cover and cook the pork chops four minutes.  Turn the pork chops over; cover and cook five minutes.

If you've never sauteed pork chops before, you may be wondering how to tell if they're done.  A quick way to test is to press on the pork chop with your finger.  When fully cooked, the pork chop will feel solid.  If you're still not sure, cut into one of the pork chops and check the color of the meat. When cooked, the meat will be white.  It's ok if there's a tinge of pink, but you want to see more white than pink.

Margaret's Morsels | Sauteed Pork Chops

I serve the pork chops with either white rice or Mushroom Rice Casserole and Baked Apples.  Because the pork chops cook in less than 15 minutes, they're easy to fix for breakfast with scrambled eggs and biscuits.  I've even been known to serve them this way for supper!

Sauteed Pork Chops
4 Servings

4 (1-inch) thick center loin pork chops, patted dry
salt to taste
pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the pork chops.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, swirling the skillet occasionally.  Put pork chops in the skillet and saute until browned, 1 minute.  Turn pork chops over and saute the other side until browned, 1 minute.  Reduce heat to medium.  Cover the pan with a lid and cook the pork chops 4 minutes. Turn pork chops over.  Cover and cook an additional 5 minutes.

© Margaret's Morsels

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