Smothered Pork Chops are comfort food at its best. Originating in the American South, they are browned and served with an onion pan gravy. Letting them simmer slowly in the sauce to finish cooking gives you freedom to make the rest of the dinner without a lot of last minute work. Dishes like this are perfect for nights when you have guests coming over. They give you time to relax and enjoy your company instead of spending the entire evening in the kitchen.
Buying thick cut chops (about 1-inch thick or more) gives you the option to brown both sides of them well and still slow roast or simmer them to perfection. If you use thinner chops they will be overcooked by the time the gravy is done. Thick cut chops stay moister and are much more tender. Just remember the rule … with thicker cuts, brown quickly for color and flavor, then turn the heat down and finish cooking slowly.
While the convenience of boneless cuts of meat is tempting, you pay a lot more for a butcher to take it off the bone. Whenever I have the chance, I always buy meat on the bone. It increases the flavor and (usually) gives you a much more “meaty” cut for less money.
Including apple cider and apple wedges adds sweetness to the gravy and makes this very appropriate for the harvest season. There is always some confusion between apple juice and apple cider. They both start out the same but the filtering and additions are different. Apple cider is made by coring, chopping, and pressing apples, and tastes like it is fresh from the tree. Apple juice is usually filtered and often has some sugar added. While you can use either in this recipe, cider will give you a more robust apple flavor.
This recipe calls for making a roux (roo) from the pan drippings of the browned pork chops. This intensifies the flavor of the pork and because you cook it until it turns brown, gives you a lovely gravy. Most recipes do not require the dark roux and therefore are rather anemic looking. If you don’t have the time to make the roux, you can also color the gravy with a product called “Kitchen Bouquet.” It is specifically designed to color foods to a nice brown color.
When working with meats it is always important to protect yourself from cross-contamination. Professional kitchens have different colored cutting boards for different foods … green for vegetables, red for meats, and white for everything else. Sometimes you’ll see yellow for poultry and blue for seafood but those are less common. There are good cutting boards in the stores to help keep your kitchen sanitary. My favorites are from Epicurean and come in either brown or black. They are sturdy, nearly indestructible, and dishwasher safe. If you like the idea of multi-color, look for Norpro cutting mats. They are flexible (which makes it really easy to transfer chopped items to the stove!) and come in four colors. They are also dishwasher safe. The only cutting boards on the market that I recommend you absolutely stay away from are the glass ones. They will actually dull the blades of your knives and are dangerous because items and your knife slip on them easily. Stay with plastic, wood, or composite for the best options.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
It may not be obvious when you first look at chops how to insert a meat thermometer. Use a pair of tongs to hold the chops on the flat sides and push the thermometer through the side into the thickest part of the chop. Do not let it touch the bone or you’ll get a false reading.
Kitchen Skill: Slicing Onions Lengthwise
When cooked, onions that have been sliced lengthwise hold their shape better. Carefully holding the onion, use an extremely sharp knife and slice from the root to the tip. Slip the skins off and set each half flat-side down on your cutting board. Cut off the ends and discard. Slice lengthwise into wedges.
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
- 2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1-3/4 cups apple cider
- 4 bone-in pork chops, each 3/4 to 1 inch thick
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise, ends removed, and sliced thinly lengthwise (about 1-3/4 cups), see Kitchen Skill above
- 1 large tart apple, peeled, cored, and cut into wedges
- 2 tbsp water
- 2 med cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
- 2 bay leaves
- Mashed potatoes, egg noodles, or cooked rice, for serving
- In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, heat 2 tbsp of the oil. Gradually whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking frequently, until mixture is light brown, close to the color of peanut butter, about 5 minutes (this is a roux). Whisk in apple cider in slow, steady stream; increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Cover and set aside off heat.
- Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large, heavy skillet over high heat until smoking, about 3 minutes.
- While oil is heating, pat pork chops dry with paper towels and sprinkle with 1/2-tsp pepper. Brown chops in single layer until deep golden on first side, about 3 minutes. Flip chops and cook until browned on second side, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer chops to large plate and set aside. They will not be cooked all the way through at this point.
- Reduce heat to medium and add remaining 1 tbsp oil, the onions, apples, a dash of salt, and the water to the same skillet you cooked the pork in. The water will soften the browned bits on pan bottom, this is called deglazing; scrape the bottom clean and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are softened and browned around the edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds longer.
- Return chops to skillet in single layer, covering chops with onions. Pour in warm apple cider sauce and any juices collected from pork; add bay leaves. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until pork is tender. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your chops. Pull them off the heat at 155°F and let the residual heat finish cooking them. It is safe to have a little pink left in the center of the pork chops.
- Transfer chops to a warmed serving platter and tent with foil. Increase heat under sauce to medium-high and simmer rapidly, stirring frequently, until thickened to a gravy-like consistency, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaves, taste, and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Cover chops with sauce and serve immediately.