I honestly do not know if pork chops are the #1 favorite cut of meat, but I do know it is MY favorite cut of meat.
Table of contents
Possibly the favorite cut of meat in Puerto Rico
I could eat pork in general at least twice a week, but I really try not to, lol. Pork has been a staple in Puerto Rican cooking for generations, with the king of pork cooking being the roasting of the whole pig over a fire pit. We will cover this magnificent meal later on in the year.
Now, the pork chop. There are many ways of cooking this beauty. The chop is a very thin cut chop in many Puerto Rican households, seasoned with powdered adobo and then pan-fried in high heat oil. This oil could also be a mixture of oil and butter. Once fried, they are stacked on a plate with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
These thin chops make for a crispy pork chop with a juicy, tender center. They pair extremely well with white rice, saucy red beans, and a wedge of cool avocado. By far, this is my most favorite meal of all. And if luck should have that, are there any ripe plantains available? A side of maduros would place this dish over the top.
Preparing your chops
The key to making a pork chop "Puerto Rican" is in the seasoning. I cannot stress enough the use of sofrito and adobo in the Puerto Rican kitchen. These two seasonings are the sure way to make any food have that distinct Puerto Rican flavor. Of course, doctoring any of these will change the flavor profile, but if either sofrito or adobo has the traditional base, the unique Puerto Rican flavor will surely follow through.
Whether using a powdered adobo or my pureed garlic mixture, season the pork chops for at least 30 minutes before cooking. I like to season mine the day before, this allows for flavors to seep into the muscle fibers of the chop. I take my fresh, garlicky adobo and mix it with orange juice and lemon to create a marinade. Then, I soak my pork chops into the marinade overnight or for at least 30 minutes (when I do the 30-minute marinade, I also prepare to reserve the used marinade and add it at the end on the final stage of cooking)
Methods for cooking
So how do I make these succulent treats? Simple. Although this recipe is for grilled pork chops, I still similarly cook my pan-fried chops.
The basics step of cooking a pork chop regardless of the method
- Get the cooking surface to medium heat. In this case, we are using a grill, so I have started the grill and allowed it to reach an internal temperature of about 325 degrees. If you want to make these on the stove, set the burner to medium-high heat. When I cook them on the stove I also turn on the oven at 325 degrees to finish cooking them. We want to create a nice sear the moment the chops hit the cooking surface.
- Drain any excess marinade off of the pork chops. Options here are to place them on a rack to drain. Or remove them from the marinade itself. You can gently remove the excess marinade with your hands. Leaving on too much marinade will create problems. It will create steam in your pan if using a frying pan, or it will create flare-ups on your grill. Also, the excess liquid will prevent a good sear from forming, and if using a pan, it will burn with the high heat, which could render a less than desirable flavor.
Before you begin cooking, read these bullets thoroughly
- Place the pork chop on the grill or pan.
- Here is what you are looking for: If the cooking surface is hot enough, there will be a distinguishable sound of the sizzle. We are looking for nice vibrant sizzle coming from the pork chop. If the sizzle sounds weak, remove the chop and give your cooking surface a few more minutes.
- DO NOT move the pork chop!! I know we are always inclined to flip and rearrange the food, but when it comes to creating a sear or a grill mark, the best practice is to let the item cook. Pro tip: we are going to cook the chop about 75-80% on one side. All the searing and markings will be done on one side. Once we flip the pork chops it is to finish them, not for the eye appeal or looks.
- Now we use our senses to finish cooking.
- LISTEN. Keep a gauge on the sizzle. If it is roaring, lower the heat. You do not want to burn the pork chops before they are cooked. (sounds crazy, but I've done it).
- LOOK. We are looking at the side that is touching the cooking surface. The meat will become opaque with a light color. If you cook on a pan, let this go until the opaqueness reaches almost half the thickness. If you are grilling, once the opaqueness is about ¼ way up from the bottom, using your tongs lift the chop and turn it one quarter way or 90 degrees. This shift will create the beautiful diamond grill marks. Also, look for smoke. Steam is light and almost transparent. Smoke is dense and opaque. Lift the pork chops make sure they are not burning if you see a lot of smoke, and reduce the heat if necessary. Just don't reduce the heat so much that the pork chops are no longer cooking.
- SMELL. If the pork chops are cooking too fast, they will burn. Continously be smelling for any changes so that to avoid burning your product and adjust your heat.
The Final Stage
I cannot tell you how long it will take to sear the chops on the grill or the frying pan only because all equipment is different. Keep looking for the nice sear marks and even "caramelization" of the meat (there is no sugar on the meat, really, so it is not a true caramelization, but I will use the term to describe the color we are looking for on the meat. The proper term is caller Maillard reaction).
Once I get the pork chops half way cooked, I flip them and cover. This is how:
- On the grill, I close the grill's lid and allow the pork chops to cook for about five minutes with the current heat settings. Although the grill is closed, I am still LISTENING and SMELLING to gauge the cooking process. After five minutes, I open the grill to ensure the chops are still good. They will probably not be done; keep in mind the thickness of the chops. I normally buy thick-cut chops, and five minutes works well even though they are not 100% fully cooked. If the pork chops need more time, turn off the grill and close it and let the chops continue cooking with the grill's residual heat. At this point, I work on my sides for my meal.
- On the frying pan. Once I flip them, I immediately place the pan in the oven, especially if they are a thicker cut chop. For thinner chops, I cover them with a lid, turn off the heat and move the pan to a cooled burner. I let the steam to residual heat from the pan finish cooking them.
There you have it!
That is all I do to make delicious, juicy pork chops on either a grill or the stove. I hope these tricks and tips help you as you begin your adventures in cooking one of Puerto Rico's most beloved cuts of meat. The pork chop.