BY BILL ST. JOHN
Marcella Hazan's recipe for pork loin braised in milk is justly famous, and chefs have been riffing on it for years. I learned it from the great woman herself during one of her cooking demos at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, sometime in the 1990s. I've made the recipe myself well over a dozen times — with both bone-in and boneless loin; with a doormat-sized slab of pork belly (this was a major yum); with a pork shoulder. Let's try it with Niman Ranch's pork sirloin chops.
Milk, you say? Milk, I say. Some say that leche's lactic acidity does the heavy lifting in the tenderizing department during the braise. Whatever its role, I can't imagine a better braising medium for pork because, unlike broths or juices, the milk breaks itself down, too, into little curds or nuggets that taste something like Sugar Babies. I mean.
St John’s Sirloin Pork Chops Braised in Milk
(Inspired by Marcella Hazan’s “Arrosto di maiale al latte - Pork loin braised in milk” from The Classic Italian Cookbook)
6 1-inch or thicker Niman Ranch pork sirloin chops
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 to 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups whole milk, at room temperature
6 garlic cloves
6 sprigs fresh sage (or fewer if leaves very large)
Peelings of 1 small lemon (with little or no white pith)
Heat oven to 325F. In a large Dutch oven or enameled cast-iron pot, over medium-high heat, sear the chops in the mix of olive oil and butter until well browned on both sides, seasoning with the salt and ample grindings of pepper as you go.
Add the milk and remaining ingredients, being careful to avoid foaming up when pouring in the milk, and arranging the garlic, sage, and lemon around the chops in the milk.
Bring to a simmer over the heat, then cover, with lid slightly ajar, and place in the oven for at least 2 hours, turning the chops 2 times during the cooking, until the chops are meltingly tender and the milk has begun to curdle or little liquid remains in the pot. (You also may braise atop the stove, over very low heat, for about the same amount of time.) However, if the liquid evaporates before the pork is done, add more milk in small increments as needed to maintain the braise.
At the end of the cooking, if significant liquid remains in the pot, remove the chops to a warmed plate and tent with foil, and pick out the lemon peels and sage sprigs. Reduce the liquid, scraping the bottom of the pot, until the sauce is nicely thickened.
Serve with oiled, herbed and seasoned roasted potatoes and steamed or wilted greens flavored with pepper flakes and garlic slivers.