To brine or not to brine; it’s not always the question, but it’s something I’m learning to do more with food.
Brining is a gorgeous way of adding flavor to protein [chicken, pork, turkey, etc.] without having to flavor the outside as much. Brining also keeps meat moist while cooking. Why you ask? Well it’s sort of simple, but try not to ask too many questions of it and just let it happen, ya know?
When you soak protein in salt and sugar, as the most typical type of brine, it pulls in the flavors through osmosis — that bit you learned about from “Coach” in Jr. High? The increased salinity in the water will travel through the protein’s cells and break down the meat protein. Then, your protein coagulates with water molecules that keep your meat moist while cooking.
I love to brine thick pork chops. If you’re like me, you’ve probably overdone a pork chop a time or two and find yourself mindlessly gnawing on a dry piece of somewhat flavorful meat. But you just want more out of what you spent for beautiful chops — you want it to taste better — I know you do!
Let’s talk about ratio. A good mixture to go by would be about 4 quarts of water to one cup of kosher salt and a half cup of sugar.
You can use brown sugar if you want, but the sweet is necessary, at least as the mice in the movie “Babe” say. “Pork is a nice, sweet meat!” Or maybe just my sister will laugh at that.
So let’s put together a meal.
Think about what you want to cook the day before so you have everything and say we’re cooking for four people.
4 pork chops (about 3/4-inch thick)
A container large enough to hold 4 + quarts of liquid
3 quarts water
1 quart apple cider
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 cup brown sugar/sugar
6 cloves of garlic, smashed
1/2 bunch thyme
1/2 bunch sage
1 bay leaf
Combine salt, sugar in liquid and heat until they are both dissolved. Let it cool [completely] and pour into your container. Throw in your chops and the rest of your ingredients. Cover tightly and let sit, refrigerated, for at least 5-6 hours. The longer you let it sit, the stronger the flavor gets, but you don’t want it too salty.
Let’s have some sauteed lacinato kale and mashed potatoes as our sides.
1lb russet potatoes, or any potato of choice, diced about an inch thick
1/2 stick butter, room temp.
1/2 cup whole milk, preferably warm or at room temp.
granulated garlic, or roasted garlic if you have it!
Boil the potatoes in heavily salted water. When they are tender, drain and immediately throw in your butter and milk. If you want them more lumpy, mash them with a spoon. If you want them more creamy, use an electric mixer or better yet, pass your potatoes through a food mill or ricer before adding your butter and milk. Adjust seasonings to taste. If it looks too dry, add more milk and/or butter.
For the kale, chop into rough strips and rinse, but do not dry. Get a saute pan hot with a little canola oil and toss in your kale. It will make quite an uproar, so don’t be afraid, you are absolutely in control. Let the kale wilt for a minute or two, tossing often. Once they are cooked to your liking, toss with a little salt and pepper. I like to squeeze a little lemon on top right before eating.
Now, for the pork chops. After the brine, take them out for an hour and let sit at room temperature. Wash them off if you’d like and pat dry. In a saute pan, heat up some canola oil till you see little wisps of smoke. Lightly salt and pepper your chops and saute for 4-5 minutes on each side or until the center registers 160-165. We have a good source for pork, so I like it a little pink, though cooked all the way through.
Have fun with this! Brining is such a beautiful way to flavor food while you’re at work or busy with something else. It’s sure to turn heads and makes such a difference. Slow food generally always tastes better than fast food.
Enjoy and happy cookin’