Lemon + Thyme Pork Chops
I’ve had too many dry pork chops in my life, and I’ve decided to change my ways. I discovered brines as a way to ensure you have juicy, tender, and flavorful pork chops (it works for other meats, too). A brine is just a salt water solution with aromatics like lemons, herbs, spices, etc. that serve as flavoring. The salt starts to break down the meat, making it more tender; that process is similar to how the acid in marinades work. The meat also soaks up some of the liquid, making it juicier. Even 30 minutes in a brine will make a huge difference!
This recipe gives specific ingredients, but brines are completely customizable to what you have on hand. Boneless and bone-in pork chops both work well. I learned from and adapted this recipe from The Kitchn. This recipe serves 2-3 people. See notes below for serving suggestions.
2-3 thick, center-cut pork chops (1-1.5 lbs boneless, 2 lbs bone-in)
small bunch fresh thyme
1 lemon, sliced
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp sea salt
3 c cold water, divided
Oven-safe skillet or cast iron pan
Meat thermometer (optional, but very helpful)
In a small pot, bring 1 cup water to boil. When water boils, add 3 Tbsp sea salt, small bunch of fresh thyme, 2 cloves garlic lightly smashed with broad side of knife, and slices of whole lemon. Stir until salt dissolves.
Remove pot from heat, add remaining 2 cups cold water to bring down temperature.
Place pork chops in a shallow dish not much wider than them. Pour brine over top. If brine does not cover chops, add
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Preheat an oven-safe pan or cast iron skillet to medium-high heat with a good Tbsp or so of olive oil.
Pat pork chops dry with paper towels (they need to be dry to brown well). Season both sides with salt and pepper.
Place the chops in the hot skillet. You should be able to hear them start searing right away (open/turn on a vent!). Cook for about 3 minutes or until the first side is golden brown. Flip chops and put the whole pan in the oven (the other side will sear in the oven). Cook in oven around 6-10 more minutes until the internal temperature reads 140-145°F and chops are cooked through.
Remove chops from pan, cover, and let rest for at least 5 minutes before serving or slicing.
If you find yourself with thin-cut pork chops, just sear each side for 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Omit roasting portion of recipe.
Be sure to use a pan large enough to leave some space between the chops. Crowding them will interfere with a good golden brown sear. Cook in batches if necessary.
Reserve a slice or two of lemon and a couple of sprigs of thyme to serve with the final dish.
My favorite thing to serve with pork chops is grits or polenta cooked in chicken or vegetable stock. Mashed potatoes are always a solid choice (pictured above). Add wilted greens or roasted veggies to round out the meal.
The pork chops may smoke some while searing and/or roasting. That’s normal, but you definitely want a vent on or a window open.
Other good additions to brines: bay leaves, peppercorns (black, white, pink, etc), crushed red pepper, different citrus fruits, whole cloves, cardamom, or nutmeg.
Use the drippings in the pan to make a gravy!
If you don’t have an oven-safe skillet, place a baking dish in the oven to preheat before cooking the chops. Sear both sides of the chops on the stove top, then transfer them to the preheated baking dish to roast.
UPDATE (6-25-14): If your water isn’t very cold, add a few pieces of ice to the 2 c you set aside. You want the water to cool done enough so it doesn’t cook the meat at all.