I’ve acquired many grown-up skills over the years—paying bills on time, stain removal, feigning interest in conversations about driving routes—but one of my very favorites is making pan sauces.
Creating a pan sauce out of little more than an ostensibly dirty pan, a splash of wine, and a pat of butter is a little bit of magic. A pan sauce transforms a boringly decent piece of meat into a next-level dinner, and really, really makes you seem like a grown-up who Knows What She’s Doing (in case you needed to prove it to anyone). Plus, making one sort of washes the pan for you, too!
Brined pork chops with a white wine pan sauce is a good, easy recipe to start with.
A brine is just a really, really salty liquid, and can be as simple as water and salt if you’re in a pinch. But other liquids, like beer, cider, and juice, plus fresh herbs, spices, or even sugars, can add more flavor.
Once you know the basic brine ratio—about one cup of liquid to 1 tablespoon of salt—you can play around with the flavors you like and the ingredients you have on hand to create one. This helps you to cook on the fly, without a recipe, and without having to make a special trip to the grocery store.
A nice brine for four boneless pork chops or sliced pork loin might be two cans of beer or cider and a little less than a ¼ cup of salt. Peak into your fridge and cabinets and think about other flavors you like: Maybe add a small handful of whole peppercorns, whole cloves, a drizzle of molasses or maple syrup, or a few sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary.
Put the pork chops in a zip-top bag and dump the brine over it. Squeeze out all the air, seal the bag, and kind of roll it around to make sure the chops are covered. Put the bag in an empty bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but you can let it go for a few hours, too. In fact, you can throw the brine together in 5 or 10 minutes before work and pop it out to cook in less than 20 minutes when you get home.
When you’re ready to cook, pull out the chops and dry them on a few paper towels. Put a sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat—don’t use a nonstick pan, or you won’t be able to make your pan sauce!—and coat the bottom with about 1-2 tablespoon of olive oil. When the pan and oil are hot, add your pork chops to the pan. They’ll cook quickly, so don’t go anywhere or, and for the love of Pete, don’t overcook them! About 5-7 minutes for the first side, and 3-5 minutes for the other, or until the internal temperature is 140 degrees. Remove the chops to a plate and cover with some foil.
By the way, a nonstick pan won’t work because you want those browned bits that stick to the pan (and make you think you have a lot of work to do scraping and washing the pan after cooking). Those browned bits are the base of your pan sauce.
Keep the pan over medium heat, and add about 1 cup of white wine while whisking. As the wine heats up, use the whisk to scrape all those brown bits off of the bottom of the pan (this is called deglazing). Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, and then add 1 tablespoon of butter and about ½ teaspoon of cornstarch mixed with ¼ cup of cold water (mix the cornstarch and water BEFORE you add them to the pan, or you’ll get Clumpfest USA).
By this time, the pork chops will have some liquid pooled under them, so pour that into the pan, too. Cook and whisk for a few more minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. You can add some chopped fresh chopped herbs, too, if you want! It’s all very forgiving and easy to improvise. Spoon the sauce across the pork chops, feel fancy, and enjoy!