Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Brined Pork Chops

When I was in high school I read the dining section of the New York Times every Wednesday and was always up to date on what was fashionable among the gourmet crowd. This was odd knowledge to have, because my cooking repertoire was limited to scrambled eggs and a pasta sauce made of parsley and garlic. Back then, the new craze was brining, and every week there was an article about the virtues of meat soaked in salt water. Eventually there was even a brining backlash, as people complained about the texture it gave the meat. I never persuaded my parents to brine anything, so I had to remain neutral in the great debate, until now. And so, my verdict: brining pork chops makes them tender and tasty. I got my basic brining technique from Bruce Aidell's Complete Book of Pork. He suggests many different brines, but the only essential thing is the proportion of salt and water and the temperature, which controls the rate the salt is absorbed. That's why he tells you to add ice cubes to the brine to bring it down to refrigerator temperature. This recipe is for two people and only takes fifteen minutes besides the brining.
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 2 tbs. kosher salt, or slightly less normal salt
  • 2 tbs. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon, or a cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves
  • 1/2 cup ice cubes
  • 2 pork chops
  • pepper
  • minced fresh rosemary or crumbled dried rosemary
  • 1 tbs. olive oil or lard

Mix the water, salt, and sugar in some sort of container that will fit two pork chops. (I used a pie plate. Other options are a big bowl or a zip-loc bag.) Stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved and add the ice cubes, cloves, and cinnamon. Put the pork chops into the container. They should be submerged, or at least nearly so. Put this in the refrigerator for 2-6 hours, depending on the thickness of the chops. Bruce Aidell recommends that you brine 1/2 to 3/4 inch chops for 2 hours, 3/4 to 1 inch chops for 3 hours, and 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inch chops for 4-6 hours. I would brine conservatively, since my pork chops are often teetering on the edge of oversaltiness.

Take the pork chops out of the brine and pat them dry. Rub them with pepper and rosemary (but no salt!). Heat the oil in a pan over medium-high heat until the oil has just started to smoke. Cook the chops for two or three minutes a side; they should be lightly browned at this point. If the chops are thin--3/4 of an inch or less--then they're probably done. If they're thicker, turn the heat down to medium and cover the pan. Even very thick chops will probably be done in another three or four minutes. They should be 140-145 degrees and should be pink in the middle. Serve with applesauce.


Seth said...

What do you do with the cinnamon and cloves?

Toby said...

Sorry, they belong in the brine. I revised the post to say that.