Believe it or not, there is such a thing as supermarket pork chops worth eating. I used to be of the opinion that all supermarket pork is tasteless and way too lean making it as tender as a rubber tire. Of course, there is the Boston Butt. It comes from the shoulder and is wonderfully fatty even on a supermarket weight watchers pig. If I got pork in a regular store (this included Whole Foods), that's what I usually got, and I braised it with great results. But my attempts to cook rib chops and loin chops have been absolutely hopeless. If I want a real pork rib chop, I buy Berkshire pork (a.k.a. Kurabuta) from Savenor's or John Dewars. Now, that's a pork chop! Lovely as they are, they are a bit pricey at $15/Lb (at least a third of the weight is the bone).
Several weeks ago, I saw something called "pork sirloin cutlets" at Whole Foods. What piqued my interest was the color of the muscles. They weren't all light pink, but had redder parts suggesting they might have a bit more flavor (or at least that was my hypothesis). They were cut 1/2 inch thick, making them a perfect 5 minute meal -- sear in a screechingly hot skillet until brown (about 1-2 minutes per side) and serve. I ventured to try them and what do you know -- they are quite good, especially for $5/Lb.
I salt them at least 1 hour in advance or even a day in advance which seems more convenient to me. This helps with even seasoning and juiciness. It also promotes better browning since it becomes possible to dry the chops very thoroughly before cooking (the drier they are, the faster they brown). If you dry, then season, then sear, the salt has time to make the outside slightly wet. Not a biggie in thicker cuts which give you more time to brown without overcooking, but it can mean trouble for this very thin cut. Overcooking this lean pork is a no-no. You want it medium-rare inside (about 120F when taken off the heat), but using a thermometer with such a thin cut is pretty tough. So just brown the outside as quickly as you can, and they'll be just right -- trust me.
There was still one mystery remaining -- what exactly were these chops? I mean where on the pig do they come from? The staff at Whole Foods was hesitant with their answers, but they were guessing that these chops were probably between the loin and the ham (in other words, around the hip). To get a more confident answer, I took a picture of them and e-mailed it to Kenji Alt. He confirmed Whole Foods suspicion and even answered my question of what would be an equivalent beef cut -- top sirloin steak. Thanks Kenji!
Seared Pork Sirloin Cutlets
1 Lb pork sirloin cutlets cut about 1/2 inch thick
Salt and pepper to taste
1 garlic clove, sliced paper thin (optional)
1 tsp minced sturdy fresh herbs, like rosemary, sage, thyme, or oregano (optional)
1 Tbsp olive oil
At least 1 hour in advance and up to 48, generously sprinkle pork with salt and refrigerate covered until ready to cook.
Dry pork very thoroughly with paper towels and sprinkle with pepper. If using garlic and herbs, spread them evenly and press them into both sides of pork.
Set a 12 inch skillet with oil over high heat. When the oil just begins to smoke, add the pork without crowding and cook just until brown, 1-2 minutes. Flip and cook just until the other side browns, 1-2 minute. Do not disturb pork as it's cooking. The more you move it, the less it will brown. Serve immediately.
I like it with a little Dijon mustard or sauteed apples. Or you can make a sauce by deglazing the pan where you cooked the pork. Maybe deglaze with stock and apple cider and finish with a little cream. The possibilities are endless.