By this point, it’s well-known that you should salt meat in advance. But did you know that you should sugar meat in advance, too? You should. I first stumbled upon this A+ tip thanks to community-favorite recipe Halfsies Chicken. This unexpected ingredient adds lots of flavor and encourages better browning. What’s more, you can apply this sweet technique (pun intended) beyond chicken—to beef, veal, lamb, and, my favorite, pork. In this recipe, pork chops get the brown sugar treatment (malty! molasses-y!), which helps them caramelize in the pan, creating a deep, dark, lacquered crust. (If you only have granulated sugar, that will work, too.) And to go with, I turn to one of my all-time favorite sides: sautéed bell peppers and yellow onions. Once melted down (be patient, this can’t be rushed), these are sweet in their own way, which is where pepperoncini come in. These spicy, zingy pickles not only add some much needed kick—but their brine serves as a pseudo-dressing to splash over the warm pork chops, too. You could serve this with nothing at all—or a simple green salad, or warm bread, or creamy polenta (for bonus points, try this Instant Pot version). And if you’re making this during warmer months, turn on the grill and try it there instead. I haven’t done this myself, yet, but you’ll keep me in the loop, right? —Emma Laperruque
Add the pork chops to an airtight container, rub all over with the brown sugar and 4 teaspoons of salt, cover, and get in the fridge. Brine for 4 to 12 hours. If the pork chops are stacked on top of each other, shuffle them partway through, to encourage even brining.
When you’re ready to eat, heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a large skillet. Add the peppers and onions and season with the remaining ¾ teaspoon kosher salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally and lowering the heat as needed, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are buttery and tender. When they’re as soft as you want, cut the heat and stir in the pepperoncini, plus 1 tablespoon pepperoncini brine. Taste and adjust the salt and brine as needed.
As soon as the vegetables start sautéing, heat a large, preferably cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Remove the pork chops from their brine and pat dry. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet and, once that’s hot, add the pork chops. (If your pan isn’t large enough to fit them all at once, do this in batches.) Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until an internal thermometer registers 140°F to 145°F. The sugar creates an intense (flavorful! wonderful!) caramelized crust, so fiddle with the heat, flip the chops, and move them around the pan as needed for even browning. When they’re done, transfer to a cutting board or plate, drizzle each chop with 1 teaspoon pepperoncini brine and sprinkle with salt.
Serve the pork chops with the sautéed peppers and onions.
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.