Pork and apples is a classic, but usually an everyday pairing. Cook’s Illustrated turned to the French recipe for porc à la Normande to inspire a more elegant rendition. Using thick bone-in chops allows more leeway to avoid overcooking, while salting them an hour before cooking helps keep them moist.
An evenly heated pan is key to a good sear on these big chops, so heat your skillet over medium high for a full 5 minutes before turning up the heat. Cutting the apples into attractive rings provides a bed to raise the chops off the skillet’s bottom to allow for even cooking once transferred to the oven.
For a sauce with layered apple flavor, rely on a combination of sweet cider, cider vinegar, Calvados (or regular brandy), and a few chopped apples, which break down and help produce the right texture. A bit of butter gives the sauce richness, while chicken broth and bacon lend a balancing savoriness. Flambéing the sauce is critical to create an elegantly complex sauce, and doing it in two batches keeps the job easy.
Natural pork is preferred, but if the pork is enhanced (injected with a salt solution), just decrease the salt in step 1 to 1/2 teaspoon per chop. To ensure that they fit in the skillet, choose apples that are approximately 3 inches in diameter. With just the two of us for dinner, we cut the number of chops and apples down from 4 to 2, but kept the amount of the other ingredients the same. Applejack or regular brandy can be used in place of the Calvados. The amount of vinegar to add in step 4 will vary depending on the sweetness of your cider.
Before flambéing, Cook’s Illustrated highly suggests to roll up long shirtsleeves, tie back long hair, and turn off the exhaust fan and any lit burners. Use a long match or wooden skewer to flambé the brandy.
French-Style Pork Chops with Apples and Brandy
- 4 (12- to 14-ounce) bone-in pork rib chops, 1 inch thick
- Kosher salt and pepper
- 4 Gala or Golden Delicious apples, peeled and cored
- 2 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 3 shallots, sliced
- Pinch ground nutmeg
- ½ cup Calvados, Applejack or other brandy
- 1 ¾ cups apple cider
- 1 ¼ cups chicken broth
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme, plus 1/4 tsp. minced
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 2 tsp. vegetable oil
- ½ – 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
- Evenly sprinkle each chop with 3/4 teaspoon salt. Place chops on large plate, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- While chops rest, cut 2 apples into 1/2-inch pieces. Cook bacon in medium saucepan over medium heat until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Add shallots, nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring frequently, until shallots are softened and beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Off heat, add 1/4 cup Calvados and let warm through, about 5 seconds. Wave lit match over pan until Calvados ignites, then shake pan gently to distribute flames. When flames subside, 30 to 60 seconds, cover pan to ensure flame is extinguished, 15 seconds.
- Add remaining 1/4 cup Calvados and repeat flambéing (flames will subside after 1 1/2 to 2 minutes). (If you have trouble igniting second addition, return pan to medium heat, bring to bare simmer, and remove from heat and try again.)
- Once flames have extinguished, increase heat to medium-high; add cider, 1 cup broth, thyme sprigs, butter, and chopped apples; and bring to rapid simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until apples are very tender and mixture has reduced to 2 1/3 cups, 25 to 35 minutes. Cover and set aside.
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees.
- Slice remaining 2 apples into 1/2-inch-thick rings. Pat chops dry with paper towels and evenly sprinkle each chop with pepper to taste.
- Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until beginning to smoke. Increase heat to high and brown chops on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes total. Transfer chops to large plate and reduce heat to medium.
- Add apple rings and cook until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Add remaining 1/4 cup broth and cook, scraping up any browned bits with rubber spatula, until liquid has evaporated, about 30 seconds.
- Remove pan from heat, flip apple rings, and place chops on top of apple rings. Place skillet in oven and cook until chops register 135 to 140 degrees, 11 to 15 minutes.
- Transfer chops and apple rings to serving platter, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.
- While chops rest, strain apple/brandy mixture through fine-mesh strainer set in large bowl, pressing on solids with ladle or rubber spatula to extract liquid; discard solids. (Make sure to use rubber spatula to scrape any apple solids on bottom of strainer into sauce.)
- Stir in minced thyme and season sauce with vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. Transfer sauce to serving bowl. Serve chops and apple rings, passing sauce separately.