I love pork. In fact, I delight in all manifestations of the porcine muse: Pulled pork, smoked bacon, pancetta, chorizo, Canadian bacon, Italian sausage, speck, prosciutto, tasso. Basically, as the saying goes, I'll eat everything but the squeal.
What I don't love, however, is dry, tough, leathery pork. Which is all but impossible to avoid when dealing with leaner cuts like loin chops. Even tenderloin is easy to overcook.
So this weekend, I tried brining a couple chops and the results were sublime: succulent, juicy, fork-tender morsels. Even the man-cub, who's still cutting molars, absolutely devoured them. The only downside is the realization that all the frustration could have been avoided, but for a little salt*, sugar and water.
Basically, that's all brining is: a salt- and sugar-water solution in which, depending on its quantity and density, you soak a cut of meat for anywhere from a few hours to a couple days. I'd done it with turkey a couple times for holiday meals, but only recently did it occur to me to try it for more everyday dishes.
One dish we used to make a lot--at least weekly--is pork chops with apples and onions. It's a recipe I got from a Martha Stewart cookbook and made a few modifications. In fact, I had gotten so frustrated trying to get these to turn out tender but not raw, that I kind of gave up on it for awhile. After this weekend, though, it's back, baby. And honestly, I can't believe Martha would ever deign to eat anything so unyielding as an un-brined pork chop. I'm beginning to think maybe she didn't personally write every recipe in that book of hers. ;^)
Here's what I did. Give it a try and let me know how it turns out.
The basic brine formula is 1 tablespoon each of salt and sugar for each cup of water. You can swap out or add other things to it--maple syrup, apple cider, a bouquet garni, peppercorns, etc.--to impart whatever flavors you want. I just added some dried thyme.
Figure out how much water you're going to use, then heat up half of it just enough to dissolve the salt and sugar. Then add the rest of the water, your adjuncts and your meat. Voila--you're brining!
For two inch-thick chops, I did about 2 cups of water--just enough to cover the meat in a medium bowl. I left them in the brine for about 24 hours and that seems about right. Be advised that the longer it brines, the saltier it's going to be.
Pork Loin Chops with Apples and Onions (Serves 2.25)
2 boneless, center-cut pork loin chops (approx. 1/2 lb. each) brined (see above)
1 Apple, cored, quartered and thinly sliced. Leave the skin on. Or don't.
Half a large onion, thinly sliced.
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
flour for dusting
Dredge the chops in flour to coat; shake off any excess.
In a large sautee pan, melt 1/2 tablespoon of butter until it just begins to brown.
Brown chops in butter, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove to an oven-safe plate, cover with foil and, if you want, keep warm in oven.
Add a little more butter to pan if necessary. Sautee onions, apples and thyme with a good pinch of salt. When onions are translucent and begin to caramelize, add wine to deglaze and reduce over high heat, stirring occasionally, until almost completely evaporated. (If you didn't put the meat in the oven, put them back into the apple/onion mixture to warm through.)
Position chops on individual plates or a platter, spoon apple/onion mixture over top and serve. Garnish with thyme sprigs if you're into that sort of thing. (In other words, not the parent of an 18-month-old).
I like this with a nice crisp pinot grigio or a spicy gewurztraminer. Chardonnay, if it's not too oaky, would also be okay. Me, I'm more of an ABC guy (Anything But Chardonnay).
*Yes, I use kosher salt to brine pork. What can I tell you; I love the taste of irony.