So, it’s about time for me to delve into, on this fine summer day, the world of science. Because the world IS science. Science has been what I have passionately studied for the past two years at the University of Victoria. The topics that I find myself most smitten with are microbiology (so many grotesquely intriguing diseases and infections) and organic chemistry (pushing arrows is my favourite hobby). As luck should have it, however, I was recently admitted into McGill University (Montreal) for the dietetics program, where I hope to fuse my obsessions with food and science. So that will be Septembers exciting adventure, for sure! Sebastien (aka Seb aka Babs aka Sea Bass aka the BF) is also joining me to study chemistry (nerd) at McGill. Besides being endlessly ecstatic about moving to the maple syrup capital of the world, I have started to read earnestly into food science in preparation for the next chapter of my education.
In this post we are going to delve into the science of a pork chop. Yes, a pork chop. As some of my close friends, family members, and coworkers are aware of, I dig pork in a big way. The story of my relationship with pork begins as a semi-poor student striving to eat well. It didn’t take me long to notice the price difference between pork and beef/lamb/veal/chicken. Also the fact that the local grocery store carried gorgeous heritage pork at a totally reasonable price, especially when the grocery store label fairy slapped a “Use Today or Freeze” sticker on the chops. I seasoned, baked, fried, slow cooked, broiled, and stewed pork into every imaginable presentation. From there, I extended mostly meat-free dishes with a touch of bacon, and introduced much-welcomed rib nights that took advantage of the flavourful, reasonable baby backs in the meat department. Pulled pork (be still, my heart!) became a much-loved member of the pork rotation. So, all in all, pork is one of my favourite additions to any meal. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate all that is pig. Now let the science lesson begin.
When cooking, we are always dealing with the gustatory sense. What is it? Taste. We can break down taste into salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami (savory). In this case, the pork represents umami. When served with apples cooked with a squeeze of lemon juice, we bring in sweet and sour. If rubbed with curry powder, we bring in bitter (predominantly from fenugreek). Brining the pork chop would create the taste that is salty.
Now that we’ve covered the tastes, how do we actually taste them? The taste buds on our tongue have receptor cells that interact with chemicals present in the food. Depending how the receptor cells interact with the chemicals, they will send a specific signal, which the brain then collects and puts together to create a portrait of taste. If you liken it to your hearing, food is the sound, taste buds are the ears, and the brain plays the same role of putting it all together. The same way the ear bud vibrates depending on the pitch, the receptor cells send signals in accordance with the chemical make up of the food. The picture I drew of the tongue is actually the result of a mistranslation of a German study from 1901, so is it accurate at all? No, in fact we can taste all the different kinds of tastes all over our tongue, but some respond with different intensity.
We all know that the gorgeous part of a pork chop has all to do with the browning of the outside. The colour and aroma produced is due to a party of amino acids and sugars breaking down and then turning around and recombining. The denaturing of proteins is the difference between raw and cooked meat, and the caramelization of the sugars is something we are all too familiar with (think caramelized onions, mmm). This is called a Maillard reaction. Gotta love that Maillard, French physician and chemist (1878-1936). He would be French, wouldn’t he.
So, we know that for proper pork taste, we need to get a Maillard going and pair it with something OTHER than umami. In this case, I decided to go with a classic apple sauce, spiced with some mustard. This is the way my mama used to get us to eat our pork when we were little, and it works to this day. Enjoy this pork, after a touch of science!
I decided to keep the pork simple with just a good rub of salt and pepper (be generous!). For grilling, I decided to dismantle a pork shoulder roast, after a quick grill of the sides, into bone-in chops that were approximately two inches. You could, for ease, use already cut bone-in shoulder chops or butt chops (they would taste equally as good!).
Pork Chops (1 per person)
Sea Salt, Rock Salt, or Kosher Salt (for a lower sodium chloride content, but all the flavour enhancement!)
Coarse Ground Pepper
1) Preheat grill to medium-high heat. While the grill is heating, take out the pork chops for 20 minutes so they are not so chilled when they hit the grill.
2) Pat the pork chop with paper towel to remove excess moisture, and rub generously with salt and pepper.
3) When the grill is well heated (Maillard reaction does not become noticeable until at least 310 degrees F, and we want to be well above that!), place the chops on the grill. You should be able to hear the chops sear.
4) Cook the chops for about 7 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature registers 155 degrees F (it will rise to 160 degrees F while resting). Whatever you do, DON’T cut into the chop! That will release all kinds of juice and you will end up with a dry, dry pork chop. If you are unaccustomed to grilling meats, and don’t know how to tell the doneness of meat by the spring back, the best way to grill is with a meat thermometer on hand, because temperature doesn’t lie about doneness!
5) When the pork chop registers 155 degrees F or desired doneness, pull of the grill. Loosely cover with tin foil, and let rest for 10 minutes so the juices settle in.
Savory Apple Sauce
2 lbs apples, peeled (optional) and sliced
juice of ½ a lemon
5 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp coarse Dijon mustard
Salt and Pepper
optional: 1 tsp finely chopped sage
1) Place the apples in a saucepan with the water and lemon juice. Cook for 15-20 minutes, until the apples have softened (start at the same time you put the pork chops on the grill). Gently mash the apples with a wooden spoon or potato masher to achieve the desired chunky sauce-like texture. Add the remaining ingredients just before serving.
Note: If you wish to make the applesauce ahead of time, you can choose to serve it warm or cold (perhaps depending on the temperature outside!).