Growing up, one of my mom’s go-to dishes is the onion braised pork chops. I loved the flavor of the sauce, which has the saltiness of soy sauce, complemented by the sweetness of the slightly caramelized onions, along with its hint of spiciness. But the texture of the pork chops were always dry and chewy, and unfortunately, was at times almost like chewing on the bottom of a leather shoe.
Lately with a craving of good, juicy, tasty pork chops, I set out to re-make my mom’s recipe, with the goal of replacing the rock hard meat with some tender, flavorful ones.
I started with her recipe by marinating the pork chops in all the sauces: HP sauce, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, white pepper, Xiao Xing cooking wine, water, and sugar. To make sure the flavors are infused into the meat thoroughly, I decided to marinate it overnight, expecting succulent pork chops by tomorrow.
Quite the contrary occurred. The pork chops turned out to be even tougher than my mother’s.
After multiple tries, I soon found out the reasons why the meat was so tough. One, the acidity of the marinade withdrew all of the moisture from the meat. Two, my pork chops weren’t fat enough, and thus they were not tender.
So I went out and bought the fattest pork chops I could find, and pan fried them without marinating. I then braised the pork chops in the cooked onion sauce for a minute or two for the flavors to steep into the meat. Finally, the results were the succulent, flavorsome pork chops drizzled with the spicy and sweet onion sauce that I was looking for. Best accompanied (of course) with a steaming bowl of white rice.
Onion Braised Pork Chops
Yields 3 medium-sized pork chops. Best served with a bowl of white rice.
Notes and Tips:
1. The Xiao Xing cooking wine and ground white pepper in the marinade is to remove the faint stinky smell that pork sometimes have and to enhance the meat flavor. Chinese cooking often use Xiao Xing cooking wine in pork for this purpose. It’s also commonly used in marinating chicken.
2. Reason for adding the cornstarch: The use of cornstarch is the same as flour – to thicken the sauce when it cooks so it sticks to the pork, and also, to remove the moisture from the meet so that when it pan-fries it will be crispier. Chinese cooking uses corn starch instead of flour, because it doesn’t have the doughy taste that flour has.
3. You can tell that the meat is cooked through by pushing the centre of the pork chops. If the meat feels tender and gives in when pushed, that means the meat is still raw. If the meat doesn’t give and it feels hard, then that means it is cooked through.
- 3 medium-sized (about 375 g) of fat cut pork chops
- 2 tbsp – HP Sauce
- 1 1/2 tsp – Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 tsp – sugar
- 1 tsp – cornstarch
- 1 tsp – soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tsp – Xiao Xing cooking wine
- A pinch – ground white pepper
- 3/4 cups – room temperature water
- 4 tsp – cooking oil
- 1 1/2 large onion, sliced
Getting the sauce ready:
- In a bowl, mix together HP sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, cornstarch, soy sauce, Xiao Xing cooking wine, and a pinch of ground white pepper, and dissolve in the room temperature water. Set aside.
Pan-frying the pork chops:
- Add the cooking oil to a frying pan and set to high heat.
- When the oil is heated, put the pork chops in the frying pan and sear them until they start to brown, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. When one side is browned enough, flip the pork chops and sear the other side. Cook the pork chops until they are well-done.
- Remove the pork chops from the pan and set aside.
Cooking the sauce:
- In the same pan, add a drizzle of cooking oil and set the stove to medium heat. When the oil is heated, add the sliced onions. Cook the onions until they start to become translucent. (If you like really soft onions, you can cook them until completely soft. I personally like semi-cooked onions so I cook them only until they start to get soft. This process is to extract the fragrance and sweetness from the onions.)
- Once the onions are translucent, crank the stove to high heat. Keep moving the onions in the pan whilst the heat is rising so that they don’t burn to a crisp. Once the pan has reached high heat, pour the sauce that you made in Step 1 into the pan. Be careful with this step, as the sauce will start to bubble immediately from the billowing steam as a result of sudden shock of high heat. Heat the sauce for about 5-10 seconds, or until it starts to thicken, and then reduce the heat to medium. (Note: To prevent splattering on yourself, pour the sauce as close to the pan as close as you can. This process, where I pour cold sauce into a really hot pan, is to extract all the flavors from the sauce and merge them with the onions.)
Putting everything together:
- Put the pork chops that you have prepared in Step 2 into the pan with the sauce, cover/smother the meat with the cooked sauce and onions, and then cover the pan with a lid for one minute. (Note: The reason for returning the pork chops into the pan and cook the with the sauce is to let the flavours of the sauce to diffuse into the pork chops. Covering the pan with a lid is to prevent the liquids from evaporating from the sauce and becoming too dry.)
- After one minute, the pork chops should be done, and ready to be served.