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I have what might be called a "modern" family. In my case, that means three parents (two biological and one step), plus a divorce-sprawled group of in-laws. While divvying up vacations and holidays is a little complicated, most of the familial challenges I have to navigate are pretty minor. The biggest disagreement I routinely have to face is not over whom to vote for in November, but over how well-done a piece of meat should be. I'm of the cook-it-only-as-much-as-necessary mindset, while a few of my family members are of the cook-it-to-death-and-then-cook-it-a-little-more persuasion.
Only recently, though, did it occur to me just how easy the solution is: breaded fried pork chops.
Much like breaded chicken cutlets, fried pork chops deliver everything everyone wants. The meat is typically sliced thinly, which makes it easy to coordinate doneness on the inside with crisping and browning on the outside. And, thanks to the magic of frying, even when those chops are cooked through, they're still as juicy as can be—satisfying to all, no matter how they like their meat cooked.
Choose Your Pork Chop
My top picks for breaded and fried chops are bone-in cuts—that bone gives you a handle to hold on to while gnawing at the chop—but boneless will certainly work as well.
Rib chops, which have a rib bone on one side, connected to a nice big cross section of the loin, work particularly well. Center-cut chops, which have a T-bone and include sections of both the loin and the tenderloin, are great choices, too. I like them cut pretty thin, about a half inch, which is just about right for purposes of timing: The meat will be just cooked through when the breading is done.
Season, Then Bread
When I have time, I often like to dry-brine meat before cooking it. Dry-brining, which simply describes the process of salting food in advance, dissolves muscle proteins that otherwise contract and squeeze out moisture during cooking. It leads to juicier results, but it does require planning ahead by a minimum of about 40 minutes (the time it takes for the salt to draw out moisture from the meat through osmosis, form a brine on the meat's surface, and then reabsorb that brine back into the meat) or as long as overnight (which gives the salt a chance to penetrate deeper into the meat).
With chops, though, and especially thin ones that are quickly fried, it turns out that this is less important. I made a mixed batch of fried chops one day, and I wasn't able to figure out afterward which ones had been dry-brined and which hadn't. Given how quick breading and frying pork chops otherwise is, I didn't find much of a reason to make it take any longer for such negligible results. Salting right before breading works just fine.
As for breading the cutlets, it's a three-stage process. Start by dredging a chop in flour and shaking off any excess, then move it to a large, shallow bowl of beaten eggs, dipping it to coat.
Let the excess egg drain off, then move the chop to a third large, shallow bowl of seasoned bread crumbs. My favorite type is panko, the large, airy Japanese bread crumbs, which form a slightly thicker and more crisp-tender crust than finely ground ones. Sometimes panko can be a little too large, but just crushing it with your hands is usually enough to break it down to a somewhat more manageable size. I mix the panko with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, minced fresh sage, salt, and pepper.
The breading process might seem cumbersome and messy, but it's actually not bad as long as you try to keep one hand dry and free of egg, and the other eggy but free of flour and bread crumbs. Mixing the two up leads to gloppy breading on your fingertips that will just gunk things up and slow you down.
As I finish each chop, I set it on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Now for the main event. Heat a quarter inch or so of oil (or, if you're feeling fancy and want even better flavor, clarified butter) until it's sizzling-hot. This amount of oil is too shallow to test with a thermometer, so I try to gauge its readiness by dropping in a lone bread crumb. When the bread crumb foams and sizzles as soon as it hits the oil, it's hot enough.
Cast iron is great for dishes like this because it retains heat so well. That means the oil will better retain its own temperature even when the room-temp chops go in. Plus, you'll be seasoning your skillet at the same time, so it's a win-win.
Once the chops go in, I try to swirl the skillet continuously to move the oil around, which helps reduce hot and cold spots; that's especially important if your burner doesn't fully cover the pan bottom. (It's even more important with cast iron, since it's not a great conductor of heat, meaning it has more extreme hot and cold spots.) In many cases, you'll also have to rotate the chops from time to time to make sure the portions closer to the edge of the pan brown as much as the ones nearer the center, which is where the burner usually directs most of its heat. Be sure to regulate the heat throughout as needed to prevent burning.
As soon as the chops are golden and crisp on the bottom, flip 'em over and do the same on the other side. By the time the second side is done, the chops will be done, too.
At that point, it's time to move them from the oil, place them on paper towels to drain, and start the next batch. While they're still hot and fresh from the oil, you can give them one last sprinkling of salt, but be careful not to overdo it: The chops are thin, and both the meat and the bread crumbs are pre-seasoned, so they may not need much more.
All that's left is to attack the platter. I prefer to use my hands only, holding each chop by the bone as I devour it, but there are occasions—say, if I'm in the presence of some family members—when I'll override that impulse and use a plate and utensils instead. Compromise, sometimes, is the name of the game.
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