Slow Cooked Pork Chops
Mistakes were made, but it all worked out in the end when I prepared slow cooked pork chops in my crockpot.
Slow cooked meals may just be my favorite way of cooking. Taking a less expensive cut of meat like pork shoulder or beef chuck and turning it into something heavenly is what I'm talking about.
Sure a grilled New York Strip Steak is great but when you slow cook (braise) you typically combine a bunch of ingredients with a liquid (stock, wine, water) and together, they create the most delightful, soulful meal. Think of some of your favorite comfort foods like beef stew, short ribs, braised chicken, and braised pork chops.
Note: while bouncing around on the Internet, I found this great post at eGullet.org showing the eGCI team testing various braising liquids. They braised short ribs in four individual vessels with ½ inch of stock, red wine, water and vegetables and then completely cover with stock.
The results are very interesting and show using partial covered beef stock yielding the best results. See eGullet.org for more.
Slow Cooker or Dutch Oven
I like both techniques for slow cooking depending on how much time I have and what's going on in my life. For example, if I'm firing up my outdoor wood-burning oven to make pizza, I'll typically prepare something to slow cook overnight in a cast iron Dutch Oven.
My wood burning oven maintains about a 200° F temperature all night so it is perfect for braising.
If I'm going out for the day and won't be around to take a pot out of the oven, I prep everything in the morning and toss it into my crock pot and let it cook on low all day worry free. When I walk into the house, I'm hit with the most insane aromas and know I have a great meal ahead of me.
Then there's those days when I want to prepare a slow cooked braise in less time in one of my Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Ovens. You can still walk away after everything is in the oven, but I'm not leaving the house with the oven on and no one at home.
I was looking at a recipe from one of my favorite sources, Cooks Illustrated Online, and found a recipe for slow-cooked barbecued sticky ribs. Looked delicious, easy to prepare and I had all the ingredients on hand including the baby back pork ribs from my freezer.
What I didn't have and I don't think the recipe or article mentioned was a 6 - 6½ quart crock-pot. Mine was only 3½ quart and although I was able to jam all the ribs into the smaller pot, the thicker ends didn't cook all the way through and I had to go back to my standby method of cooking barbecue baby back ribs.
It worked out, but was a pain in the butt. I immediately went online and purchased the highly recommended 6½ quart Crock-Pot Touchscreen model that was almost double the size of my current crock-pot. There's a whole lot to think about when buying a crock-pot, but finding one with accurate heat settings is most important.
I'll write an article on crock-pots describing the differences and what to look for when purchasing one soon. I'll also try the barbecue rib recipe in the new cooker in the future and report back on the results. In the meantime, let's focus on some pork chops.
Slow Cooked (Braised) Pork Chops
Now that I own this brand new 6½ quart Crock-Pot with a fancy touch screen that is accurate between 195 ° F and 207° F I'm ready to try a new recipe. Hmmm, let's try another well-researched slow-cooker recipe from my Cooks Illustrated Online. This time it was slow cooked, crock-pot smothered pork chops.
Again, I made a mistake and this time it was my fault. I fill you in on the results first and then tell you the mistake. The smells that filled the house were breathtaking. The sauce made by slow cooking the vegetables and spices with pork and broth was mouth watering but the meat was DRY.
How could this be? I followed the directions to the letter and I'm cooking in a crock-pot for 7½ hours. What could I have done wrong?
Not Reading the Recipe Accurately
What I did wrong was not read the recipe accurately. I purchased 6 bone-in center cut pork chops and the recipe calls for bone-in Blade-Cut pork chops. The difference = an overcooked dry piece of meat versus a tender, fall off the bone one. Plus it cost me a lot more for center cut chops than if I had purchased blade chops. Stupid me.
I should have known not to try braising a center cut pork chop for that long. Yes, it is possible to braise this cut of pork but it has to be done quickly.
The blade chop does come from the loin but at the end closest to the shoulder. It is marbled with more fat and is tougher than the center cut making it perfect for braising for longer periods of time.
PLEASE, READ YOUR RECIPES CAREFULLY!
All Was Not Lost
The pork was dry but the sauce made by the braise was amazing so the next night I shredded the pork with my fingers and put it back in the pot with the sauce. Cooked some egg noodles and served the pork over them. An expensive shredded pork - noodle dish but was better than the first night as a chop.
Here's how you make slow cooker pork chops smothered in onions using blade chops adapted from Cooks Illustrated Online version.
Slow Cooked Pork Chops
- 4 slices bacon cut into ¼ inch pieces - good for added flavor and fat
- 3 medium yellow onions halved and sliced thin
- 4 teaspoons light brown sugar
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves minced (substitute 1 teaspoon dried)
- salt to taste
- 3 cups chicken broth homemade is best - low salt is ok
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Minute Tapioca used for thickening and usually can be found next to the Jello in your supermarket
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 bone-in BLADE-CUT pork chops ¾ inches thick
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves minced, for decorating dish at end
- Start by cooking the bacon pieces in your favorite large frying pan (skillet, sauté pan). Cook the bacon until crisp, about 8 minutes and transfer the bacon to a plate covered with paper towels.
- Save in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. The bacon bits will be served on top with the parsley at the end.
- Pour out all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat from the pan. Me, I have a dog food can on the counter that I pour all my fats into and when it's full, I refrigerate to harden up and throw out in a zip lock bag. Don't pour your fat down the drain. Plumbers delight.
- Heat the pan over medium high heat and when the bacon fat shimmers add the onions, 1 teaspoon of brown sugar, thyme, garlic and ¼ teaspoon salt.
- Cook, being sure to stir often until the onions start to caramelize. This is going to take as long as 15 minutes but don't walk away and watch a basketball game on TV. You need to keep stirring so the onions don't burn.
- When the onions are soft and light brown, add 1 cup of the chicken broth and give a stir.
- Transfer all this good stuff to the crock-pot, add the remaining 2 cups of chicken broth plus the other tablespoon brown sugar, soy sauce, instant tapioca and bay leaves. Stir to combine.
- Wipe out the fry pan with a paper towel, add a tablespoon of olive oil to it and bring to medium heat. When hot, season the pork chops with salt & pepper and brown on both sides. This should only take a minute on each side.
- Once browned, transfer the chops to the crock-pot.
- Cover the crock-pot and cook on the low setting for 7½ hours until the meat is tender. (That is if you use the right cut of pork!) You can also cook on high for 4 to 5 hours, again until tender.
- When all is cooked, transfer the meat to a large serving plate if you are not serving individual plates and tent with some aluminum foil. The meat needs to rest while you finish the sauce.
- You want to get rid of as much fat as possible from the cooking liquids. Let the liquid cool for 5 minutes and then spoon off as much as you can from the surface. May be my least favorite job when cooking but worth doing.
- Get rid of the bay leaves; add the vinegar, stir and season with salt and pepper to taste. You are now almost ready to serve family style.
- Reheat the bacon pieces in the microwave oven for about 30 seconds until heated through.
- Pour 1 cup of the defatted sauce with all those lovely caramelized onions over the pork chops, sprinkle with some bacon bits, fresh parsley and serve with the rest of the sauce on the side.