How to braise pork chops and create tender meat smothered in a delicious gravy with onions.
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This recipe is based on a homey Belgian cooking with beer specialty often served in the brasseries and cafes of Brussels. There the dish is simply called Pork Chops Brussels Style (Varkenskoteletjes op z’n Brussels) – the use of beer is a given.
We often add thinly sliced dried figs to the onions and ale to create a richer taste. They virtually melt into the braising liquid and contribute a rich, luxurious sweetness.
Understand the Cut of Meat
When it comes to braising pork chops typically the preferred type is boneless pork loin chops.
The loin spans the length of the pig, just underneath the fat back. Chops cut from the loin area closer to the shoulder have a bit more fat and tend to be juicier while those carved out from near the ham are leaner.
Lean pork loin chops such as the ones shown above are easy to overcook and become tough which is why brining them prior to preparing this recipe (or any other that calls for this cut of meat) is essential.
Brining increases the liquid content of the meat and also loosens its protein structures. As the chops cook, they retain more moisture and stay juicier.
TIP: Do not discount the importance of brining pork loin chops. Always brine if you have the time – the meat will be so much juicier. Look up the basic brine recipe Chris uses as a professional chef in the notes of the recipe card below. Brine for 2 to 12 hours for best results.
Ingredients for Braised Pork Chops with Ale and Onions
Besides the pork chops (and optional brine ingredients), gather the following:
Flour. To dredge the pork chops in.
Butter and cooking oil. To sear the chops and then saute the onions, the butter is pure flavor, the oil keeps it from burning.
Onions. Sweeter varieties such as vidalia, white or red onions are most suitable.
Ale or Cider. We like using sweet Belgian trippel ale or Duvel (Belgian strong pale ale) in this recipe, other good options are saison or Belgian wit. The original recipe is frequently prepared with gueuze ale or a similar lambic. If Belgian ales are not your thing you can absolutely substitute with hard cider – the flavor of the sauce will be different, but still really good. For a non-alcoholic version use high quality vegetable broth instead of the ale or high quality apple juice instead of the hard cider.
Fruit/Brown sugar. Dried figs are optional, but definitely a tasty touch that adds a ton of flavor to the sauce. If you choose to skip the figs add two tablespoons of brown sugar to the onions to compensate for the omitted sweetness. If you go with cider, consider adding sliced apples instead of the figs.
Herbs & Seasonings. Salt and pepper to taste, to season the pork chops and then the onions. Thyme (dried or fresh to add in the braising liquid). Fresh thyme (or flat leaf parsley) for garnish.
Corn starch. To thicken the sauce – you will make a slurry with it.
Vinegar/Mustard. Just before you serve the chops you can add a bit of acidity by way of apple cider or white wine vinegar to the sauce or some Dijon mustard. The touch of sour really rounds of the flavor base of the gravy.
How to Make Braised Pork Chops Ale
The workflow for this dish is straight forward. All you need by way of equipment is a nice heavy skillet (cast iron or similar), a lid that fits it and your stove.
Prep all your ingredients before you begin – brine the chops (recommended), thinly slice the onions, pick the thyme leaves, if using dried figs thinly slice them in strips etc. and get to work.
Step 1. Remove the pork chops from the brine (if using) and pat them dry. Season with salt and pepper on each side. Dredge the seasoned chops in flour and shake of the excess.
Step 2. Heat a skillet and melt butter and cooking oil in it and add the floured pork chops. Sear each side for about 3 minutes.
Step 3. Remove the pork chops from the skillet and set aside. Add the onions, figs, thyme and salt and pepper. Mix well together and cook down over medium heat until the onions are nicely softened.
Step 4. Deglaze with the beer and scrape off any brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Add a bit more beer, bring to simmer, add the pork chops back in the skillet over the onions and cover.
Step 5. Simmer for about 12-15 minutes, then again remove the chops to a serving platter and thicken the sauce with slurry (corn starch + water). Optional – add a bit of butter for a silkier sauce. Stir, remove the skillet from the heat and lace with a bit of vinegar and/or stir in some mustard.
Smother the chops with the onions and sauce and serve or add back the pork chops to the skillet, cover them with onions and gravy and serve.
TIP: Braised pork loin chops are done when the internal temperature registers 145 F.
How to Make Cider Braised Pork Chops
Execute the recipe in exactly the same way but use hard cider instead of the sweet ale and substitute the dried figs with apple slices. No need to add brown sugar, cider is much sweeter than any Belgian ale. You also might want to use sage in place of thyme, or both.
Possibly the greatest experience we’ve had enjoying these chops is served generously smothered with the onions and beer gravy and simply a piece of freshly baked, crusty rustic bread to mop up the deliciousness. Of course, washing it all down with a Belgian ale.
Mashed potatoes are clearly a contender here, as well as roasted potatoes and even fries. Rice pilafs or even simple, boiled white rice go well with this dish too.
Other Recipes You Might Like
- 4 pork loin chops, 1 inch thick
- salt & pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp flour
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 2-3 onions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup dried figs (thinly sliced) OR 2 tbsp brown sugar*
- 1 tsp dried or fresh thyme (picked leaves only)
- 1 cup pale Belgian ale** (such as trippel, Belgian strong or saison)
- 1/2 tbsp corn starch + 1 tbsp cold water mixed together (slurry)
- 1/2 to 1 tsp white wine or apple cider vinegar
Brine*** (Optional but highly recommended)
- 4 cups water
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 tsp kosher salt (heaping)
Prepare a brine (optional) by bringing the water to a boil and stirring in the sugar and salt. Remove from heat and add about 2 cups of ice to the liquid. Place chops in it. Brine refrigerated for 2 to 12 hours.
1. When ready to cook, pat dry the pork chops and generously season on both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge each one in flour, shake off excess and set aside.
2. Over high heat heat a heavy bottomed skillet, melt butter, add cooking oil and sear the floured pork chops for 3-4 mins per side. Remove them from the skillet, set aside and lower the heat to medium.
3. Add the sliced onions, figs, thyme and salt and pepper to taste to the skillet. Stir nicely and let cook down for about 8-10 mins.
4. Deglaze the skillet with just a bit of the beer at first, scraping off brown bits from the bottom. Then add all the beer and stir everything together.
5. Place the pork chops on top of the onions, cover and simmer on medium for 10 to 12 mins or until the internal temperature of the chops reaches 145 F and the chops are springy when pressed upon. Be careful to not overcook them - they will become tough.
6. Move the cooked pork chops to a serving dish. Add the slurry to the braising liquid and onions and stir to thicken. Add about 1 tbsp of butter to create a silkier sauce (optional).
Remove from the heat and add vinegar or stir in some Dijon mustard (optional).
Smother the chops in the serving dish with the onions and the gravy or simply add back the pork chops to the skillet, cover with gravy and serve.
*The figs melt into the braising liquid and infuse it with their concentrated sweetness. If you don't have any handy add the brown sugar instead.
**You can substitute with cider, but in that case substitute the figs with a sliced apple. Do not add any sugar when using cider.
***Brining the pork chops ensures that the meat remains moist during the cooking process and is more tender.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 494Total Fat: 27gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 117mgSodium: 1391mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 1gSugar: 25gProtein: 36g