Crunchy Baked Pork Chops

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS: When done right, baked breaded pork chops are the ultimate comfort food—tender cutlets surrounded by a crunchy coating that crackles apart with each bite. But use a packaged supermarket breading and you get a thin, sandy crust. Make your own breading and you have different problems: a soggy, patchy crust that won’t stick to the meat. What’s the secret to ultracrunchy chops?

Brine the Chops: We found that the first step toward juicy, well-seasoned chops is to brine them. Although you may be tempted to skip this step, don’t. Center-cut chops are quite lean, and left untreated they will be very dry and chewy, even when cooked to medium. The salt in the brine not only helps ensure juicy chops, it also seasons the meat for better flavor.

Use Fresh Bread Crumbs: We left the dusty, stale-tasting packaged crumbs on the shelf and made our own fresh crumbs from good-quality sandwich bread. Pretoasting the crumbs ensured that they would still be plenty crunchy by the time the pork was done. Don’t skip the toasting step; if you do, you must choose between a less-than-crunchy coating and overcooked pork.

Make a Batter-like Coating: Most recipes dust the chops with flour, dip them in beaten eggs, and then coat with crumbs. The result is a soft crust that has a greater propensity to peel away when baked. (Pan frying does a better job of fusing crumbs to meat.) Our solution was to replace the beaten whole eggs with a batterlike mixture of egg whites, flour, and mustard. The fat in the yolks can make the crumbs soft, so we got rid of them. Adding flour and mustard to the egg whites turned the typically liquid-y wash into a Spackle-like paste that really stuck to the chops and held on to the crumbs.

Bake on a Rack: Elevating the chops on a baking sheet proved essential; this allowed any moisture shed by the chops to drip harmlessly away and permitted heat to circulate around the chops, ensuring that the coated chops browned on all sides.


Crunchy Baked Pork Chops

Serves 4

If the pork is enhanced (injected with a salt solution), do not brine in step 1, but season with salt in step 4.

Salt and pepper
4 (6- to 8‑ounce) boneless pork chops, 3/4 to 1 inch thick, trimmed
4 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into 1‑inch pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small shallot, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/4 cup plus 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 large egg whites
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Lemon wedges

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 1 1/2 quarts cold water in large container. Submerge chops in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Remove chops from brine and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels.

2. Meanwhile, pulse bread in food processor until coarsely ground, about 8 pulses (you should have about 3 1/2 cups crumbs). Transfer crumbs to rimmed baking sheet and add oil, shallot, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Toss until crumbs are evenly coated with oil. Bake until deep golden brown and dry, about 15 minutes, stirring twice during baking time. (Do not turn off oven.) Let cool to room temperature and transfer to large bowl. Add Parmesan, parsley, and thyme and stir to combine. (Bread-crumb mixture can be prepared up to 3 days in advance.)

3. Place 1/4 cup flour in shallow dish. In second shallow dish, whisk egg whites and mustard until combined; add remaining 6 tablespoons flour and whisk until almost smooth, with pea-size lumps remaining.

4. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees. Spray wire rack with vegetable oil spray and set in rimmed baking sheet. Season chops with pepper. Dredge 1 pork chop in flour; shake off excess. Using tongs, coat with egg white mixture; let excess drip off. Coat all sides of chop with bread-crumb mixture, pressing gently so that thick layer of crumbs adheres to chop. Transfer breaded chop to prepared wire rack. Repeat with remaining 3 chops.

5. Bake until chops register 145 degrees, 17 to 25 minutes. Let rest on rack for 5 minutes before serving with lemon wedges.

To Make Ahead: Breaded chops can be frozen for up to 1 week. Do not thaw before baking; simply increase cooking time in step 5 to 35 to 40 minutes.

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