Some days, it feels like Hillcrest Artisan Meats invented pork. I know some of you out-of-town readers might not understand that, which means you need to get to Little Rock quickly and have lunch at the place so that all will become clear. Today was one of those days – I stopped into H.A.M. to grab a pork loin sandwich (breaded pork loin, Dijon, aioli, LTO) which was, of course, fantastic. As I stood at the counter waiting on my order, I took a look in the fresh meat case to see what goodies might be found…and I saw some of the prettiest, thickest, most delicious looking pork chops ever to exist on this planet or any other. And like any good impulse shopper, I had Brandon wrap a couple up for supper later that night. Turns out that both the chops and the pork loin in my sandwich came from the same local grower, Freckle Face Farm in McRae. I’ve talked to Mitchell from Freckle Face a couple of times, and he’s one heck of a nice guy in addition to raising some of the best food around. Freckle Face is on a lot of menus here in Little Rock, and their meat is also available at several of our farmers markets, at fine establishments like H.A.M. and also online. Since these were thick chops, I used a method known as “reverse searing” on them, a method that turns the usual way of cooking meat on its head by starting in the oven and finishing in a hot skillet. It’s a fantastic way to get a thick piece of pork completely cooked while not drying it out.
To reverse sear your chop (or steak, but we eat our steaks so rare that a regular sear is enough), pre-heat your oven to 225. Salt your meat and allow it to come to room temperature. I know that bringing meat to room temperature seems like a gross violation of the Laws of Food Safety, but the salt is going to slow the growth of any nasties, it isn’t going to be nearly enough time to spoil — and room temperature meat cooks more evenly. Take your chops, pat them dry, and season with some fresh-cracked black pepper. You might be tempted to add some sort of bottled seasoning or some chili powder: stop yourself. These pigs are raised right. They have flavor. Don’t cover it up.
Put your chops in a cast iron skillet and let them cook in the oven for 30-45 minutes. The chops will be pretty much cooked through, but they should still be quite juicy. For you science folks out there, what we’re doing is allowing enzymes known as cathespins to break down the connective tissue in our meat, which will make it more tender. These enzymes don’t work above about 125 degrees, so low heat is vital. In addition, lower heat will cook without a lot of moisture evaporating, so our meat stays juicy — it’s a win/win.
Of course there’s another science term involved in good meat, and that’s the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction occurs when dry heat reacts with sugars and amino acids in meat to make that delicious caramelized crust that’s so good on steaks and chops. Cooking at low heat won’t give us this, so this is where the sear part comes into play. Remove your chops from the skillet and add a glug of olive oil (the more pungent, the better). Pat your chops dry, and when the oil is hot, sear them until they’re nice and brown. Let them rest for a few minutes and then serve. Savor the flavor of excellently raised free-range pork and don’t worry about anybody seeing you gnaw that bone. Happy cooking!