I like culinary challenges. I also like short cuts. Sometimes, when doing the former, I should avoid the latter no matter how tempted I am to be a little lazy. This was one of those times.
I had these beautiful, thick cut pork chops bought for an amazing sale price of $2.99 for two pounds (lordy, how I love Amazon Fresh!) Normally, pork chops are left to John’s expert shaking and baking, but I was inspired to try stuffing pork chops after watching a cooking show on the subject. With some leftover Danish blue cheese, pecans, and honeycrisp apples on hand, I decided to take on the challenge of a stuffed chop, something I’d never attempted before.
Foodie instinct told me I should brine those babies since pork has a tendency to bleed out moisture when cooked under high heat. Dryness was also super likely since I would be cutting a giant hole into the center of the pork chop. But the lazy instinct also kicked in– I didn’t want to dirty another dish to wash, clear out space in my fridge to make room for brining chops, and frankly, didn’t have the minimal hour to spare that these chops would need to acceptably brine. So I steamrolled ahead, hoping that my stuffing might be enough to make up for any loss of juiciness in the chops.
Look at them– don’t they seem to be smiling in encouragement? “No, Chris! We’re perfectly happy since we’re stuffed full with delicious bits of apple, pecan and fresh thyme cooked in butter and mixed with blue cheese. No need to get us all cold and soppy in a salt water bath. Cook us– we’ll be fine!” WRONG.
It’s such a disappointment really, as a quick taste of the stuffing made me really excited for this meal. The floral, citrusy taste of the apple was complemented by the lemony, woodsy thyme and the creamy, salty tang of the blue cheese. There was further happiness from the buttery crunch of pecans and the general sweetness of the filling would have been so great, like an exotic apple sauce for the pork chops. I seared these in a hot cast iron skillet, and my heart sank. You could see how dry the chops would be by how much they shrunk upon cooking. The first bite confirmed my fears. Frankly, even a drizzle of the pan juices over the chops was not enough to save these suckers.
So redeem these babies! I’ve included a recipe for a brine I would do if trying out these guys again, which I am sorely tempted to do. Until I do, give it a try if you’re inspired and let me know if it works!
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 2 tsp black pepper
- 2 quarts water
- 1 lb boneless, thick cut pork chops
- 1 medium honeycrisp apple, peeled and cut into small dice
- 2 tbsp chopped pecans
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 2 tsp fresh thyme
- 1/2 cup crumbled Danish blue cheese
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- salt and pepper
- Olive oil and butter for cooking
Whisk together the salt, sugar, cider vinegar, pepper and water in a large baking dish until salt and sugar dissolves. Add the pork chops, making sure that they are completely submerged under the liquid. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour or do this overnight if easier for your schedule.
Take out pork chops and pat dry with paper towels. Trim the chops of any excess fat. Using a paring knife, cut a slit that is about halfway down the width of the chop, starting and ending from about 1/4-1/2 inch from the sides of the chop. You’re making a deep pocket, so if you insert the knife on one side and run it back and forth without moving it up and down to the other side, you should be successful. 🙂 Let chops rest and come up to room temperature while you cook the stuffing.
In a medium skillet, melt the 2 tbsp unsalted butter over medium heat. Add the pecans and let them toast for about 3-4 minutes. Add the shallot and saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the apples and garlic and let it continue to cook for another 5 minutes or until apple pieces are shiny and slightly cooked. Add the thyme and salt and pepper to taste, keeping in mind that the blue cheese will add extra saltiness. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Fold in the blue cheese.
In a cast iron skillet, heat 1/2 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp unsalted butter over medium high heat. Stuff about 2 tbsp of the blue cheese apple mixture into the slits of the pork chops and fasten the top of each chop to the bottom with two toothpicks (to help keep the stuffing inside the chops). Salt and pepper both sides of the chops. When the fats in the pan are rippling, add the chops. Cook for about 4-5 minutes on each side or until the outsides are browned. Remove to a plate, take out the toothpicks, and tent with foil. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
UPDATE: I recently made these for a dinner party and yup– brining was key. I soaked 10, 8oz each, boneless top loin chops in my proposed brining recipe for about 8 hours. I cut the slit in each chop before setting it in the brine. I soaked toothpicks in water for about an hour, stuffed the chops and sealed them shut with the toothpicks before setting them on a grill. They cooked for about 10 minutes per side or until a thermometer registered 140 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the chop that didn’t have stuffing. They rested for 10 minutes before serving and were awesome!