Apple-Bacon Stuffed Pork Chops
Bacon may be the secret to a long life. Yes, you read that right. The World’s oldest woman, 116-year-old Susannah Mushatt Jones, eats bacon. Every day. She has it for breakfast, AND… she snacks on it later. This may be the best food news I have heard in a long time. I stopped feeling guilty about the bacon bits I had tossed into the breakfast casserole (in the dark of night when no one was watching). I tossed some bacon into the salad I made for lunch the next day. And I threw caution to the wind and added it to the stuffed pork chops I had been testing out. The first time, I had hesitated and restrained myself. But the second batch… oh, my!
What makes these pork chops special, besides the bacon, is a little nudge of local magic. Crisp, juicy apples and sweet, tart cherries capture the feeling of fall in the Northwest and a splash of Washington cider delivers it to your plate. If you have never stuffed a pork chop, don’t be shy about trying. This was the first time I ever tried to do this, and I was amazed at how easy it was. The finished product is very impressive relative to the actual amount of time and effort. Make sure your paring knife is sharp and be careful to leave at least a 3/4 inch border of uncut meat around all the edges so that you will end up with a nice pocket.
Stuffed Pork Chops
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 3/4 inch pieces
1 small red onion, diced
1 cup diced celery
1 large apple of your choice, diced
1/4 cup dried cherries, sliced into thirds
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
freshly ground black pepper
4 thick cut boneless pork chops
1/2 cup hard apple cider, divided
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat in large cast iron frying pan, coating entire bottom surface of pan. Once pan gets warm, add bacon. Cook bacon until light brown and crispy, stirring and watching closely so as not to burn. Remove bacon with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Pour off bacon grease so that you have just enough left to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Add onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add celery, chopped apple, a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary. Cook and stir until soft – about 5 or more minutes. Add sliced cherries and pour in 1/4 cup cider. Cook and stir until most of liquid evaporates. Stir in reserved bacon. Remove pan from heat and transfer stuffing into small bowl.
Stand pork chop on fat covered edge. Make a horizontal pocket by inserting the point of a small paring knife about 3/4 inch from left edge into the chop and wiggling back and forth. The finished pocket should run almost the entire length of the chop and almost all the way down. Cut pockets in remaining chops and then stuff by spooning filling into each pocket, pushing with spoon to fill fully. Secure openings with toothpicks. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Return cast iron pan to stove and heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium heat. When pan becomes hot, add pork chops. Press down on chops with spatula so that entire surface of meat comes into contact with pan. Sear until browned and turn when chop releases easily. Sprinkle chops with 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary. Return any leftover stuffing to pan, spooning around pork chops. Add 1/4 cup cider to pan and cook for about 1 minute to reduce most of the liquid. Transfer pan to oven and let cook until pork reaches internal temperature of 145 – 160 degrees, or juices run clear. Remove from oven and let rest 3 minutes before serving. Transfer to individual plates and spoon extra stuffing alongside.
Any apple that you like will work well in this recipe, especially if it’s not too sweet and a little bit tart. I used Braeburn, Gala, and Jonagold – all with good results. Trader Joe’s sells dried bing cherries that are unsulphured, unsweetened and good to have on hand for tossing into fall salads, trail mixes, and baking.
I used Washington Gold Cider to add a splash of sweetness. Not only is it a good, made-in-the-Northwest hard cider, but it also has a resealable top, so that you can enjoy it on more than one occasion.
Pork is lean, low in fat, and is an excellent source of protein, thiamin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, and niacin. A lean pork chop, or pork tenderloin, contains the same amount of fat and slightly less calories than the same serving of skinless chicken breast. Add some fruit and vegetable, toss in a little bacon for good measure, and you have a healthy meal.
Who knows? Bacon may, or may not, really help you to live longer. But it sure makes you want to.