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Eric Akis: Irresistible pork chops, prepared Parmigiana-style

Plump and appealing cuts of meat inspire chef Eric Akis’s twist on a classic Italian-American dish.
Pork chop Parmigiana is coated in crumbs, fried, topped with cheese, baked and served with marinara sauce. ERIC AKIS

Today I have a twist on the Italian-American dish chicken Parmigiana — the twist being that I used pork chops instead of chicken breasts.

I did that recently because I had craving for the dish, but when I went shopping I couldn’t resist buying the plump and appealing looking Vancouver Island bone-in pork chops I saw for sale. I was certain they would taste fantastic prepared “Parmigiana-style,” and I was correct.

At grocery stores and butcher shops you’ll see different types of bone-in pork chops for sale such as centre-cut pork chops, which look like T-bone steaks, with meat from the tenderloin and the loin. You’ll also see loin pork chops for sale, which have little to no tenderloin section.

The latter is the type of chop I used in my recipe and having the bone in helps to keep the meat juicier and also gives the chop a more interesting look when plated.

To make the pork chop Parmigiana, I pounded the meat, alongside the bone, with a kitchen hammer/mallet to make it thinner and wider and to have more surface area to adorn with cheese later in the cooking process.

After I pounded the chops, they were seasoned, floured, dipped in beaten egg and coated in bread crumbs. I then fried the chops until golden, set them on a baking sheet, topped with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, and baked them until the cheese melted over the pork. The last step was to spoon some marinara sauce on dinner plates, and then set on the chops.

My recipe serves two, but could be doubled or further expanded if you’re feeding a larger group. You could serve the pork with a steamed green vegetable and pasta, rice pilaf or risotto.

Pork Chop Parmigiana

Juicy pork chops are coated in breadcrumbs, fried, topped with cheese, baked until rich and flavourful, and then served on tomatoey marinara sauce.

Preparation time: 35 minutes

Cooking time: 18 to 20 minutes

Makes: two servings

2 large, about 1-inch thick, bone-in, loin end pork chops

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/3 cup fine dried breadcrumbs

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1 large egg

1/4 tsp dried basil

1/4 tsp dried oregano

1 Tbsp milk

2 Tbsp olive oil

2/3 cup grated mozzarella cheese, or to taste

2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or to taste

2/3 cup store-bought or homemade marinara sauce, heated (see Note)

• chopped fresh parsley, to taste (optional)

Pat chops dry with paper towel. Trim some of the fat off each chop if it’s overly thick. Now, with a sharp knife, make a few slits into the fat/rind side of each chop. This should prevent the chops from curling up when they cook.

Place one pork chop on a cutting board and cover with a double thickness of plastic wrap. Use a kitchen hammer to pound the meaty portions of the chop until about 1/2-inch thick. Set chop on a plate. Pound the other pork chop this way. Season chops with salt and pepper.

Put breadcrumbs, flour and eggs in their own separate, shallow dishes. Mix the basil and oregano into the breadcrumbs. Add milk to the eggs and beat to combine.

Coat one pork chop in flour, and then dip and completely coat in the egg mixture. Now coat the chop in the breadcrumbs, gently pressing them on to help them adhere. Set the chop on a clean plate. Coat the other pork chop this way (see Eric’s options).

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour oil into a large skillet set over medium heat. When hot, set the coated pork chops in the skillet and cook four to five minutes per side, until golden and almost cooked through.

Set chops on the baking sheet. Top each chop with some mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Set in the oven and bake 10 minutes, or until chops are cooked through and cheese is melted.

Spoon some hot marinara sauce on each of two dinner plates. Set a chop on each plate and serve, sprinkled with chopped parsley, if desired.

Note: Marinara sauce is sold in the pasta sauce aisle of supermarkets and at Italian/European food stores. If you want to make you own, try the recipe below.

Eric’s options: You can coat the chops in breadcrumbs many hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Marinara Sauce

Richly flavoured with herbs and garlic, this sauce will go great with pork chops Parmigiana. It can also be ladled over your favourite pasta. Any leftover sauce will freeze well.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: About 35 minutes

Makes: About two and half cups

1 (28-oz/798 mL) can Italian San Marzano whole plum (roma) tomatoes

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 large garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp dried basil

• pinch fennel seed (optional)

• pinch granulated sugar

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place the tomatoes and their juices in a bowl. Use your hands to squash and break tomatoes into chunks.

Heat oil in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pot set over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and cook until both are fragrant and light golden, about three to four minutes. Mix in the basil, oregano and fennel seed, if using, and cook and stir 15 to 30 seconds more.

Add the tomatoes and sugar. Bring sauce to a slow simmer, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain that slow simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Loosely cover the pot and simmer sauce 30 minutes. (Do not completely cover the pot, as steam rising from the simmering sauce must be allowed to escape.)

Purée the sauce in a blender or food processor, or do so right in the pot with an immersion (hand) blender. Taste the sauce, and season with salt and pepper, as needed, and it’s ready to use.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.