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Sous-Vide 101: Double Cut Pork Chops
With the sudden uptick of inexpensive home sous-vide cooking options hitting the market, it seems like a fine time to revisit our Sous-Vide 101 series with a few more recipes. First up, double-cut pork chops.
Pork is a prime candidate for sous-vide cooking, and thick-cut pork doubly so. Why? Well, back in the day, pork used to be much fattier, meaning that it could be cooked to relatively high temperatures while still maintaining a modicum of juiciness. Modern pork, on the other hand, has been bred to be relatively low in fat, with big chunks of un-marbled meat. It's all part of the "other white meat" campaign—pork masquerading as chicken. Lean, modern pork tends to dry out very quickly unless you cook it carefully and keep it to a safe medium-rare.
With a thick double-cut chop (that's a rib chop with two whole ribs in it), this can be tricky. The thicker a piece of meat is, the more difficult it is to keep the edges from overcooking as the center comes up to temperature. Difficult using standard cooking techniques, that is. With sous-vide, it's a snap.
Because sous-vide cooking is designed to allow you to cook meat to a specific temperature very, very evenly and precisely, you can get that pork chop a perfect medium-rare all the way from edge to edge with no worries of overcooking.
To start, season it well with salt and pepper, then seal it in a heavy duty plastic bag. You can use a vacuum-sealer for the best results, or you can use the easy-seal method with a standard zipper-lock bag by sealing all but the last inch of the seal, then slowly lowering the bag into the bath to remove excess air, sealing it right before the water starts to leak into the bag.
For a pork chop, you'll want to cook it at between 135 and 140°F for a minimum of 45 minutes to cook it through to the center, and up to 4 hours (much longer than that and it'll start to get a little soft due to enzymatic breakdown of tissues.
When you pull it out of the bag, it'll look like the photo above. Not particularly attractive, with a grayish-pink, mushy exterior. This is what happens when you cook without achieving temperatures high enough for the Maillard reaction to take place.
In order to fix this, we're going to need to add some color and texture to the chop.
Many folks will recommend you sear with either oil or clarified butter, both of which can be heated hotter than standard butter before beginning to smoke, due to the presence of milk proteins and sugars in regular butter.
After lots of testing, I've found the exact opposite to be the case: butter is a great medium for browning sous-vide style chops and steaks, precisely because those milk proteins and sugars will stick to the surface of the meat, hastening the browning process and creating some nice, charred flavors that you don't get with straight up oil or clarified butter.
I sear my chops in browned butter, adjusting the flame so that the butter is as hot as it can possibly get without outright burning or smoking excessively (there's no way getting around at least some smoke, unfortunately. Just shut off your detectors).
After you get the sides, make sure to get the edges, especially the fat cap on the top, which needs to render and crisp a bit in order to be palatable.
After searing, a very brief rest is all it needs. Because sous-vide cookery doesn't create a large temperature gradient within the meat, there is very little carryover cooking and not much need to allow temperatures to stabilize and juices to redistribute and thicken. A minute or two to let the exterior cool slightly is all it needs.
You can serve the chop as-is, or, if you want to be all fancy-like, carve it up before bringing it to the table. When carving a chop, I like to serve it in three distinct parts: the loin, the fat cap/deckle, and the ribs. To do this, start by first cutting all the meat off the bone, following the contour of the ribs with a sharp knife. Next, cut through the stripe of fat that separates the large eye of meat form the fatty deckle attached to the top.
Finally, slice both parts thinly, split the ribs, and plate it up.
You will never have a moister, juicier pork chop.
Aren't you glad we're living in an age where medium-rare pork no longer instills fear into our hearts? This is pork, the way it's meant to be eaten.
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.