“I don’t have pet peeves,” he said, correcting the interviewer. And with a mischievous glint in his eyes, he added, “I have major, psychotic hatreds.”
-the late George Carlin, (via the NYT)
A minor psychotic hatred of mine was recently inflamed in the Meat Department of Stew Leonard’s.
Who, I fumed, will pay prime prices for a steak in the shape of a 3-ring binder??? WHOOO???
Of course, as I was thinking this, sleep-deprived mommies and hungry bachelors were edging around me, trying to get at my “reject” stack of cellophaned, lopsided meat.
Ushering my shopping-cart-pushing Man away from the misshapen beef (and similarly ill-fated lamb...CURSES!), we took stock of the Other White Meat selection.
Luckily, the pork didn’t suffer the same madman with a hacksaw, so into our cart went 4 evenly butchered, bone-in pork chops. As we navigated through the one-track maze that is Stew’s, I pondered brining possibilities; I knew I had a 6-pack of hard cider in the fridge, and it seemed as good a place to start as any.
Brining = protein insurance policy, which is why I set my turkey afloat every Thanksgiving. But everyday brining is a great cheat/shortcut to help perk up leaner problem-proteins; white-meat chicken, pork loin/tenderloin/chops.
What’s more, brining is uber-subjective; so long as you keep the sweet-salty-acid-heat axis in check, you can feel free to unleash your spice rack to your heart’s content.
My base-recipes are from an old issue of Food & Wine (July, 2002), The Dean & Deluca Cookbook, and Cook Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe; but here are a few other (more electronically accessible) examples that’ll make a great jumping-off points for everyday brineage:
- Cider-Brined Double-Cut Pork Chops
Recipe by Nick Fauchald, Food & Wine (June, 2008).
- Grilled Maple-Brined Pork Chops
Recipe by Melissa Kelly, Food & Wine (November, 2004).
- Texas-Rubbed and Brined Pork Chops
Adapted with permission from Girls at the Grill, Bon Appetit (April 2008).
Please remember to read whatever recipe you choose to use ahead of time to avoid calamity (i.e. "What do you MEAN, brine for 12 hours! I need to feed the brood NOW!").
Cider-Brined Pork Chops with Sautéed Apples, Onions and Sage
Adapted by An Effing Foodie
Cobbled together from:
Feeds 4 normal people, with the assumption of a veggie and starch.
For the brine:
- 1 quart water
- 1/2 cup kosher salt (DON’T USE IODIZED SALT; it makes the finished chops taste like processed ham!!! UCKY!)
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup honey (you could also sub molasses for a sultrier chop)
- 4 thyme sprigs
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3 allspice berries, crushed
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1-2 tsp. black peppercorns, cracked
- 1 lemon, washed & sliced into 8 rounds
- 1 small onion, roughly sliced
- 2 (12-oz.) bottles hard cider, chilled (preferably Magner’s)
For the chops:
- 4 (3/4 lb.) bone-in, center-cut pork chops, lightly rinsed
- Kosher salt & cracked black pepper
- 1-2 TSBP vegetable oil
For the chop-topping:
- 2 TBSP butter
- 1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 Golden Delicious apple, cut to 1/2-inch chunks
- 1 Granny Smith apple, cut to 1/2-inch chunks
- 1 cup hard cider (the remainder = cook’s reward)
- 2-3 TBSP chicken broth (optional)
- 2 sprigs sage, leaves only
- Instant-read thermometer
12 to 4 hours before cooking:
Bring the quart of water to a boil in a large, non-reactive pot with a lid that’ll manage to fit in your fridge. Turn off heat and add salt, sugar, and honey. Stir until dissolved. Add remaining brine ingredients (EXCEPT for the pork chops).
Allow the brine to cool completely (the chilled cider will help to speed things along) before submerging the chops. Cover pot and shove in fridge; allow chops to soak for 2 to 12 hours.
When you’re ready to cook:
Preheat oven to 500 degrees F, setting rack to lower-middle position.
Line a shallow roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet with foil; set aside.
Remove chops from brine and pat dry with paper towels. If you like, season them with a little S&P (people tend not to with brined meat, but I feel like there’s never enough salt).
When the oven comes to temperature, place a large, heavy skillet with 1 TBSP oil in it over high heat.
When the oil shimmers, lay 2 chops in the super-hot pan; sear for 2 minutes a side, for to get a nicely browned crust. (Don’t mess with them, or they won’t caramelize properly--flip ONCE, and that’s it!)
Place seared chops on the foil-lined pan to await their fiery fate, tenting loosely with yet more foil to keep them hot. Sear remaining 2 chops and place on the same pan.
(Or, if you’ve got 2 large skillets, sear the puppies all at once.)
Pop the pan in the blistering 500 degree F oven for 2-3 minutes; remove from oven to flip chops and finish with another 2-3 minutes, or until a test-chop reads 125 to 127 degrees F when inserted with the instant-read thermometer.
Transfer chops to a platter and tent with foil, allowing them to rest for at least 5 minutes (if you like, take the temp again after resting; it should have risen to about 145 degrees F).
While the chops rest, use your searing-pan for to make the topping. Melt butter over medium-high heat; add onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Toss apples in to coat and soften for 2-3 minutes. Pour in cider and chicken broth to deglaze the pan, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom.
If by this point the reserved chops are sitting in a puddle of their own juices (they should be!) carefully tilt their platter and pour said juices into the onion-apple mixture (the foil-tent comes in handy for holding the chops down in this bit). Stir to incorporate.
Plate chops with the topping spooned on top (duh), and park those plates in front of your hungry folk.
Serving suggestions: If you’re feeling fancypants, Riesling; if not, more Magner’s. My Man has an aversion to mashed potatoes (I know, don’t get me started), but polenta with basil oil was a good supporting player, as was mozzarella-tomato-basil-endive salad.
Go forth and brine--NEVER AGAIN suffer a subpar pork chop!