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Eric Akis: Milk-braised pork makes a saucy, comforting winter meal

Pork chops are seared, set in a baking dish, covered with seasoned milk, and baked and braised until deliciously tender in this Italian-style entree.
Pork loin chops are baked and braised in milk until tender and flavourful. ERIC AKIS

I was flipping through a cookbook the other day called The Foods of Italy and came across a recipe for pork braised in milk. It’s an interesting, long-used, Italian-style technique for cooking pork where the lactic acid in the milk helps to tenderize and flavour the meat, while at the same time creating a sauce for it.

I had not prepared it for a while and that book inspired me to make it again. The only problem was, the recipe called for a five pound pork roast, but I was only cooking for two and that was, obviously, way too much meat.

I could have bought a smaller pork roast. But in the end, I decided to downsize the meal by braising two pork chops in milk, instead.

To prepare it, two thick pork chops were lightly floured, seared, set in a baking dish and topped with whole (homo) milk, flavoured with garlic and herbs. The chops were then covered, baked and braised in the oven.

When the pork chops are cooked and very tender, you’ll see that the milk around them will have curdled. That lumpy liquid won’t look pretty, but it will be tasty.

You could serve the pork with the liquid in that form, which many recipes do, or improve its look by straining it through a sieve first. You could also place the curdled milk mixture in a pot and vigorously whisk it to break up the curdled milk to create a more emulsified looking sauce.

Or, lastly, you could do what I did, and use a immersion (hand) blender to blend the curdled milk mixture into the rich, creamy looking sauce you see served with the pork chops in today’s photo.

To create a comforting winter meal, I served the pork chops with mashed potatoes that I flavoured with minced green onions and Parmesan cheese. You could also serve the pork with a steamed green vegetable, such as the broccolette I used.

Pork Chops Baked and Braised in Milk

Pork chops are seared, set in a baking dish, covered with seasoned milk, and baked and braised until deliciously tender.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 88 minutes

Makes: two servings

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

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

2 tsp olive oil

2 tsp butter

1 1/4 cups whole (homo) milk

1 large garlic clove, halved and thinly sliced

1/4 tsp dried sage leaves, or minced fresh sage, to taste

1/4 tsp dried thyme, or minced fresh thyme, to taste

Pat chops dry with paper towel. 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. Season chops with salt and pepper. Put flour in a shallow dish. Lightly coat each chop with flour.

Preheat oven to 325 F. Set out an eight-inch square baking dish. Place oil and butter in a large, 10-inch or so wide skillet set over medium-high heat. When butter is melted, add the chops and richly sear, about three minutes per side. Set the seared chops in a single layer in the baking dish.

Combine milk, garlic, sage and thyme in a small bowl, and then pour over the pork. Tightly cover dish with foil and bake chops 80 minutes, or until very tender. Meanwhile, clean the skillet you seared the pork in and have at the ready.

When chops are cooked, remove from the oven. Turn oven to 200 F. Uncover the pork chops. The milk around it will be curdled but don’t worry about that. Use tongs to lift the chops out of the dish and on to a plate. Keep chops warm in the oven.

Pour the curdled milk mixture into 2-cup glass measuring cup or similar sized vessel. Use an immersion (hand) blender to blend the milk mixture until it’s a smooth, emulsified sauce. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you could pulse the milk mixture in a blender or food processor until it achieves that consistency.

Pour sauce into the cleaned skillet. Set over medium heat and bring to just below a simmer. Taste and season sauce with salt and pepper, as needed. Set the pork chops in the sauce and turn to coat.

To serve, make a generous pool of the sauce on each of two dinner plates. Set a pork chop on each plate and serve.

Note: Dried sage leaves are whole sage leaves, crumbled into tiny, but discernible pieces. It’s sold in the bottled herb aisle of grocery stores. Don’t confuse it with finely ground, dried sage.

Mashed Potatoes with Parmesan and Green Onion

Mashed potatoes kicked up a notch by mixing in minced green onions and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. These potatoes make a nice side dish for the saucy, milk braised pork chops.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 18 to 20 minutes

Makes: two servings

1 lb. yellow-fleshed potatoes, peeled and quartered (see Note)

1 Tbsp butter, melted (see Note)

3 Tbsp warm milk

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

2 Tbsp minced green onion

1/3 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (not the dried powder type)

Place potatoes in a pot, cover with two-inches of cold water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and gently simmer potatoes until very tender, about 18 to 20 minutes.

Drain potatoes well, and then thoroughly mash. Beat in the butter and milk; season potatoes with salt and pepper. Mix in the green onions and Parmesan cheese, and serve.

Note: Three medium, or two very large, yellow-fleshed potatoes should yield the amount needed here. You can melt the butter and warm the milk by placing them together in a small bowl and zapping them 20 seconds or so in the microwave. You could also melt and heat them together in a small pot on the stovetop.

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

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