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Sage is a powerful herb that’s popular in fall dishes.

Sage’s pungent flavor is described as bitter when eaten raw. Uncooked sage should be used sparingly to ensure the right balance of flavor. Like other strong herbs, sage can easily overpower a dish. But once cooked, sage’s velvety soft leaves, which are slightly thicker than most herbs, mellow in flavor. For today’s dish — Skillet Pork with Crispy Sage and Sauteed Apples — I fried fresh sage. It takes just 20 seconds to fry the leaves, which also flavors the oil.

The fried leaves make for a fancy garnish. Or, you can crumble them and sprinkle over the pork and apples.

Sage is just one of the highlights of this one-skillet dish that also features pork loin chops, sauteed apples and a pan sauce that takes a few minutes.

For the pork, you can buy precut pork chops or pick up a pork loin and cut it into chops. I prefer the latter because it lets me control the portion size of the chops (plus, it’s also cost-effective). For skillet cooking, I cut them about 3/4- to 1-inch thick. If I want to make a pocket for a stuffing, I cut them thicker.

To season the pork, I used a dried rubbed sage, which also is soft to the touch. Use this sparingly, because it can be strong.

The pan sauce is a mix of apple cider, apricot preserves and Dijon. The preserves give it a silky consistency, and the Dijon adds a tangy flavor that balances the sweet tones.

This pork dish pairs nicely with a side of pan-sauteed Brussels sprouts. To prepare them, trim their ends and remove any wilted, yellowish leaves. Cut up (use scissors because it’s super easy) 4 slices of bacon and add them to a skillet. When the bacon is crisp, cut the Brussels sprouts in half (or leave them whole) and add them to the skillet. Saute the sprouts until crisp-tender.

Skillet Pork With Crispy Sage and Sauteed Apples

Serves: 4

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

PORK AND SAGE

1/4 cup olive oil

16 good-size sage leaves

4 center cut boneless pork loin chops, about 3/4- to 1-inch thick

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons rubbed sage

1 teaspoon brown sugar, optional

APPLES

2 large leeks (white and light green parts only) washed well, halved and sliced

2 tart apples such as Empire, peeled, cored, diced

PAN SAUCE

1/2 cup apple cider or apple juice

1/3 cup apricot preserves

1 to 2 tablespoons Dijon

In a large skillet (12-inch), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add half of the sage leaves to the oil. They will sizzle for about 20 seconds. Once they’re done sizzling, use a slotted spoon and remove them to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining sage leaves. Set them aside.

Make a few slashes in the fat of the pork chops. Pat the pork chops dry with a paper towel. Mix together the salt, black pepper, sage and, if using, brown sugar. Sprinkle the mixture on both sides of the pork chops, pressing it on the meat.

In the same skillet, heat the sage-infused oil over medium-high heat. Add pork to skillet and cook until well browned, about 5 minutes. Turn chops, cover the pan and cook another 8 minutes.

Remove the chops to a plate when they reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Tent with foil, and let rest while you prepare the apples and pan sauce.

To the same skillet (add a bit more oil if needed) add the leeks and saute about 3 minutes to soften. Add the diced apples and saute until they are crisp-tender. Remove from the skillet and keep warm.

For the pan sauce, add the apple cider to the skillet and heat over medium-high heat while scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet. Stir in the apricot preserves and Dijon. Continue cooking until the preserves melt and the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Add any accumulated juices from the pork into the sauce. Taste sauce and season if desired.

Serve one pork chop with some sauteed apples and a drizzling of the sauce.

From and tested by SusanSelasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

Nutrition information: 454 calories (45 percent from fat), 23 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 32 g carbohydrates, 32 g protein, 341 mg sodium, 81 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber.

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