I had plans to share with you the recipe for a warm farro salad (that’s it in the background there, with a dice of roasted butternut squash and bits of goat cheese), but as it turned out, these herbed pork chops stole the show. Grabbed the mic and the spotlight and everybody’s attention. After mooning over the tender, juicy chops, my husband and I abandoned our silverware like a pack of cave people and gnawed the bones clean.
Though I’m sure the quick, Oktoberfest-ive preparation helped (herbs, breadcrumbs, parmesan, mustard, a quick sear before finishing in the oven), I have a feeling it was the type of pork I purchased that made it so wildly delicious: butchered from a whole farm-raised Berkshire hog, with creamy intramuscular fat marbled through ruby-red meat, on the bone.
When the low-fat craze of the 80s invaded, industrial agriculture aggressively bred specific types of pigs to produce leaner and leaner meat. The result was low-fat, but also low in flavor, a mealy “other white meat” shot through with antibiotics, salt and nitrates. It’s a bland industrial product that sits in nearly every American supermarket.
But now, in the same spirit as “heirloom” produce (you may have had some beautifully lumpy tomatoes this summer, or grow Sugar Pie pumpkins), there’s a resurgence of farmers raising “heritage” pork, antique breeds of pigs. They might be feral (like Georgia’s Ossabaw, descendants of Spain’s famed Ibérico ham) or farm breeds like the Berkshire, with unique flavor profiles and fat distribution.
As a wine reflects its terroir, healthy animals that are allowed to eat a pig’s natural diet and meander in the outdoors (which helps put on a layer of tasty fat come winter) will invariably taste of where and how they were raised; much better, in other words, than their stressed brethren surviving in an industrial CAFO (“Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation”) or factory farm.
All of which, of course, will put a premium on your grocery bill. Healthy meat isn’t cheap, nor should it be. Consider it a donation to conserving these breeds (and maintaining genetic variation among the species as a whole, another key to long-term survival) and to the family farmers who raise them.
And then, my heritage hog-loving friends, as a reward for your noble efforts you’ll get to tuck into the very best pork chop you’ve ever had. I won’t look if you skip the silverware.
Herb and Parmesan Crusted Pork Chops
serves two; doubles easily
- 2 thin cut, bone-in pork loin chops
- 1/4 C flour
- 1 egg white
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 3/4 C bread crumbs, seasoned or plain
- 1/4 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1 tsp dried sage
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried parsley
- salt and pepper to taste + 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp butter
Season chops with salt and pepper and bring to room temperature. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Sprinkle chops with flour on both sides and pat to coat. On a pie plate, whisk the egg white and Dijon mustard. On a separate plate, mix the bread crumbs, herbs, cheese, 1/2 tsp salt and ground pepper.
Dredge one pork chop in the egg mixture and then in the breadcrumbs, patting to adhere. Repeat with second chop. In an oven-proof skillet large enough to accommodate both chops, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat until sizzling. Sear the chops until nicely browned, about 2-3 minutes per side. (If doubling the recipe, sear the chops in batches and transfer to a pre-heated baking sheet.) Transfer the skillet to the oven and continue cooking, turning the chops over halfway through; bake for about 5-8 minutes, depending on thickness, until the chops reach 145-150 degrees internal temperature. Let the pork chops rest for 8 minutes and serve.
Note: Pork is best when it’s not overcooked, with a rosy tinge in the center. Fears of trichinosis infection (a problem during earlier generations) can be quelled by smart-is-sexy food scientist Harold McGee, who notes that trichinella is killed off at 137 degrees. The parasite is also largely absent from today’s pork supply, says McGee, resulting in fewer than ten cases of infection annually (mostly from game meat such as bear, walrus or cougar).