I once tasted brown sugar and fennel ice cream in San Francisco, California. It was good — and unique — but I thought the flavors were better suited for a nice, thick-cut pork chop. As it turns out, they are!
For years I avoided pork chops because they were often dry like shoe leather. I was living with the memory of my father’s voice repeatedly telling us that pork held the threat of trichinosis and “lock jaw” (as he would describe any cooked pork less than pure white) from mishandling and improper cooking.
Times, processing, and sanitation controls have changed, and so have cooking methods. Following temperature guidelines keeps us all safe. We can now enjoy juicy, succulent (and even a little bit pink) pork. Here’s the magic number: Reach 145F (63C) in the center of cooked pork and you’ll be just fine… and much happier than if you were eating shoe leather. Now let’s talk about safe handling of the highly toxic blowfish. Just kidding…
Extra credit for American readers: How many of you think of The Brady Bunch when you hear “Pork chops”?
Brown Sugar and Fennel Pork Chops
- 4 bone-in, 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick pork chops
- 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt (not iodized table salt)
- Pre-heat the oven to 400F (200C)
- Rub olive oil and sprinkle salt on both sides of each of the pork chops. Place the chops into a room temperature large, heavy-bottomed skillet or saucepan approved for oven use
- Finely grind the fennel seeds in a coffee or spice grinder. Alternatively, give your wrist a work out and grind them using a mortar and pestle. As a last resort, put them in plastic bag and smash them with a meat tenderizer or hammer (be careful of your countertop!). Grind the seeds as finely as you can. Powder is ever better
- Mix the ground fennel with the brown sugar. Spread this mixture evenly over the top of each chop
- Bake in the oven, uncovered, using the center rack for 20 minutes (or until an instant read thermometer reads 145F (63C). Remove the chops from the pan and cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes.
- If you’d like to use the pan drippings to make a quick gravy, just heat the pan over medium-high heat and whisk in one tablespoon of all purpose flour until it thickens. This will be a sweet gravy because of the brown sugar. However, with the fennel, and used sparingly, it’s a nice complement to the pork chop