This dish has a history that's important to Sparky: it's the first meal I ever cooked for his father, who was hooked immediately. For Sparky, I really wanted to show him how to sear and cook meat because that single skill can be applied to pretty much any fine-grained protein: chicken breast, fish, steak as well as foods like hamburger and tofu...aaand, well, it doesn't hurt to have this one in your arsenal if you're trying to impress someone. It's a good beginner dish: hard to ruin because you're standing right over it (or should be) the whole time. Add a salad and a nice roll, and you've got an instant romantic dinner (or toss some oiled potatoes and a roastable veg into the oven over high heat and you'll have the same.)
Three (or four) America's Cut pork chops
1 medium red onion, peeled, halved, and sliced
2 apples, peeled and sliced
5 sprigs of thyme, stemmed
1/8 cup Port and 1/4 cup chicken stock OR 1 small bottle hard cider
Salt and pepper to taste
We started with "America's Cut" pork chops, or chops cut from the center loin. These were relatively thick chops, but this recipe will work with most any kind, as long as you learn to tell doneness by the "bounce." Sparky started the process by carefully drying the pork chops with paper towels (wet chops won't sear nicely.) He then salted and peppered each chop and set them aside while we prepped the garnish; peeling and slicing the apples and onion, and stemming the thyme.
We put a cast-iron skillet over high heat and added a little vegetable oil, and tested it with a drop of water; the pan is ready when the drop fizzles away immediately. Sparky brought his mise-en-place to the stove and carefully laid each pork chop in the hot skillet and stood there for an ABSOLUTELY INTERMINABLE FIVE MINUTES.
When we could see the bottom edges of the chops start to brown, Sparky flipped them over. We then poured in the onions and stirred them a bit. The onions were topped with apples and thyme leaves. Once we saw that the pork chops were brown around the bottom edges after just a few minutes, we turned down the heat to medium and added the liquids, stirring the onions and apples to release their juices.
At this point, I had Sparky start poking the chops with the tongs to determine their "bounce." Pork chops are done when they reach the texture of the muscle by your thumb when you've made a tight fist: a little bit of give, but not much. We pulled the pork chops off to a heated platter and smothered them with the apples and onions.
Sparky decided that this meal was festive enough to warrant wine glasses and a serious expression. Enjoy!