Fall flavors of pork, apples and cornbread blend into a memorable meal
"Pork chops and applesauce," I will never forget Peter Brady, yes of "The Brady Bunch," repeating the phrase over and over while trying to imitate Humphrey Bogart. Nor will I forget how often I have used applesauce to help moisten a dry pork chop. But, what if moist pork chops were nestled in warm apples and topped with a blanket of cornbread stuffing studded with cranberries and toasted pecans? The result is the perfect fall meal.
Pork has so many different cuts. Compare fatty and flavorful bacon, pork shoulder or delicious ribs to the ultra-lean pork loin or tenderloin, and when cooked properly, they can all be delicious. While bacon is very forgiving due to its high-fat content, pork loin can be easily overcooked, resulting in a dry and tough piece of meat.
I have found the best way to ensure properly cooked meat is to use a meat thermometer. I have an instant-read version and a probe thermometer with external control.
The instant-read quickly registers the internal temperature of whatever you are testing; a piece of meat, casserole or baked good, and must be removed after testing. An instant-read thermometer may not be left in the item being tested and returned to the oven, as the thermometer cannot withstand the heat. On the other hand, the probe version is meant to be placed in whatever you are testing before being placed in the oven. It is only removed once the desired temperature has been reached. The probe is then connected, via wire, to a device left outside the oven set to the desired temperature, and some even have wireless remotes.
For this recipe, either will work, but I find it easier to use the probe variety. Simply insert the probe into the center of one of the pork chops before topping with stuffing. Set the target temperature for 10 degrees less than your goal, so you can have time to stop what you are doing and get to the oven.
Just in case you do overcook the chops a little, don't worry, the juicy apple mixture and moist stuffing will help provide extra moisture and more flavor than you can imagine.
If time is an issue, a can of apple pie filling and your favorite stuffing mix can easily step in for the homemade versions. If you have the time and ingredients, homemade is worth a little extra effort.
I have a good friend with an apple tree in her yard, and an open invitation to pick whenever I'd like. How lucky am I? I'm not sure of the exact variety of apple, but they are green with a hint of pink, holds their shape when cooked, and are a bit on the tart side. These apples serve as my inspiration to make this dish every year.
Softened apples, with a little sugar and cinnamon, create a pie filling like layer, and a splash of balsamic vinegar balances sweet and savory perfectly.
Cornbread stuffing mix is just fine for this recipe, but feel free to throw together a cornbread mix, or a batch of the homemade variety if you'd like. Crumble and combined with sautéed vegetables, sweetened dried cranberries and toasted pecans, along with some chicken stock and voila! Feel free to substitute dried apricots, raisins, or figs for cranberries if you'd like.
The last important component is the pork chops themselves. I usually use boneless pork loin chops, but the bone-in pork chops would even be better. They typically have a bit more fat, and the bone adds flavor. No matter what type you use, be sure each chop is at least 1- to 2-inches thick and thoroughly dried before seasoning. This will ensure a golden sear on the meat, adding flavor, before adding other ingredients.
I like to bake this in my 12-inch iron skillet but have also used a 9-by 13-inch pan.
This beauty comes out of the oven looking like a bubbly apple cobbler topped with streusel, but don't be fooled, it is a savory dish with just a hint of sweetness. It's a perfect flavor combination for a crisp fall day. It can be assembled earlier in the day and refrigerated and reheated when you are ready, making it ideal as a post-Trick-or-treat meal or Sunday supper. No matter when you eat it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.