Monday, August 17, 2009

Pork Chops in a Maple Brine with Roasted Pear Chutney

Trying to find a good recipe for Pork Chops, which happened to be on sale last week, I ran across a recipe for Maple Syrup Brine with a Roasted Pear Chutney. It's been a few years since I've brined, I did it once or twice with success before I absolutely ruined a few chops with an overly salty brine and have shied away ever since. I do not take well to serving a pork chop that tastes suspiciously like a salt lick. This recipe did have a few things that intrigued me though, including the maple syrup ingredient. While in PA last weekend my mother had given me some farmers market syrup she had picked up. Because it's just Will and I in the apartment and I rarely cook breakfast (before coffee my culinary skills involve toasting and that's about it) I had been concerned about my ability to find uses for such a tasty syrup. A rich brine seemed like the perfect "solution." That's right, it's a righteous pun. Deal with it.

There were other advantages to brining. Since both the brine and the Pear Chutney need to be created the night before, I could cook it in the later hours of the evening, when the sun had gone down and my apartment cooled off a few degrees. It was an elaborate and time consuming bit of cooking which I don't usually tackle on a weeknight. Before moving to NY when I lived at home I usually only cooked on the weekends and would make complex meals. When I moved, these were the recipes I knew best and didn't calculate in the full time job when attempting them. According to the people I love I get a tiny bit cranky when my blood sugar plummets, and I nearly risked my relationship and my cookware making mozzarella stuffed meatballs at 8:30 on a Tuesday night with Will hiding in the bedroom and ground meat all over the table before I finally figured out that not every meal could be created on a weeknight. The brilliant part of the brining plan was I had already eaten a simple sausage sandwich and none of the food was for the same night, making the weeknight cooking a much lower pressure and higher blood sugar situation.

So that's how it came to be that at 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday I was standing over my "non reactive" pot. Who are these people buying the "reactive" pots recipes feel the need to warn you about? The nice thing about brine is that it's generally a "Throw things in pot, stir, boil, cool" kind of directions. There was a lot of chopping and measuring involved, but no sauteing or roasting or extra work to speak of. As per the comments on Epicurious, I halved the salt, didn't concern myself with the Juniper Berries (which I don't happen to keep on hand), and added a bit of Bourbon. As I had nearly killed the bottle, I threw the remaining shot in a glass, added an ice cube and a mint leaf and enjoyed a nice southern summer treat as I cooked. Cooking is better when you have a drink in your hand, which is one of the reasons I keep Will around and let him eat my food.
Once the brine was all set and cooling on the table, I turned my attention to the Roasted Pear Chutney. This involved, unsurprisingly, roasting the pear. In 87 degree humid weather. Dammit. The kitchen already felt downright gross so instead of turning on the oven to roast a single pear, I flicked on my brand new toaster oven, a wedding shower gift from my childhood friends the Jacobsons. I peeled the pear, cut in half, and tossed with lemon, sugar, ground cinnamon and ground cloves. I was a bit weary of the recipe as my kitchen now smelled like a Christmas cookie in the middle of a heat wave in August...but I plowed ahead. The onion mixture was simple enough, though it called for

golden raisins and currants, neither of which I had thought to buy, so I skipped them and crossed my fingers. Thank god I had lined the roasting tray of the toaster oven with foil. The extra sugar sauce that dripped off the pear became a black smoking goo within 15 minutes, and while the pear was fine, it would have been a hell of a thing to subject my brand new cookware to.

At 10:30 p.m. everything was covered and in the fridge, and I was drenched in sweat and exhausted. Of course, exhaustion doesn't necessarily mean sleep. Insomnia racked me and I got out of bed and surfed the internet until three in the morning, which left me a bit cranky when I rose the next morning and set about the task of actually plunking the pork chops into the brine. I really, really hate dealing with raw meat before coffee. I'm perfectly fine with smooshing ground meat with my bare hands or butterflying

a chicken after, say, one in the afternoon. Let's just say handling a giant raw pork chop at 8 a.m. isn't my favorite way to start the day. I plunked the chops into the brine and, after the damn things started to float on me, weighed them down with a butter knife.
Sticking it back in the fridge I muttered something about how I swear to god I'm going to turn Kosher, and then settled in with toast and coffee.

At 6 p.m. that evening I stumbled into my apartment and collapsed on the bed, four hours of sleep did not make for the most invigorating day. Thank god I had done 90% of the work on dinner the night before or I would be calling my friends at Dominos. Will and I were getting worried we called them too much when we started receiving "Valued Customer" coupons in the mail... but then some friend of ours told us that their delivery guy recognized them on the street and knew them by name. I'm sure the people who deliver for Dominos are solid upstanding citizens of high moral character, but that's far from the point. I just don't want to feel like a fatty. That hasn't happened to us yet, so I guess we're still okay.

I proceeded to nap until Will got home around seven and then I decided I had better start cooking the massive pork products. Well, first I had Will make me his patented Raspberry Lemon Cosmo. Then I got some laundry together. Then I had a piece of baguette with cheese and read a magazine while Will tackled some of the sink of dishes I had created the night before. Okay fine, so maybe it was close to 8 p.m. before I actually chopped potatoes and got them cooking, and another half hour before I got the grill pan going. I was tired! The directions, which were of course written for an out door grill and not my teensy Queens kitchen, instructed the chef to have one part of the grill on high heat, and another part on medium. The chef is to sear both sides of the chops on high heat, and then transfer to the medium heat part and cover the grill. I regarded my singular grill pan with trepidation. I solved this problem by

searing, and then removing the chops entirely to a plate, turning down the flame, and then holding the grill pan in midair for a minute while it cooled the hell down. Grill experts could probably tell you ten things wrong with this system, but luckily I haven't talked to them. Once the chops were back in the pan I covered them with a lid from an old cheap pasta pot that is ventilated. I threw out the pot a long time ago when the bottom rusted (ew), but I discovered this method while grilling Turkey Burgers, so I've held onto the lid. I'm so handy. I'm also very attractive and funny, but that's off topic.

So, after all that, at nearly 9 p.m. (which, I suppose, makes this a 26 hour meal for those keeping track) we sat down to Grilled Maple Brined Pork Chops, Roasted Pear Chutney, and Roasted Red Potatoes. The Pork Chops, thank god, were delicious. They were juicy, they had a deep oaky salty flavor without being overly salty, and I didn't even burn the outside, which I've been known to do on a grill pan. The potatoes are fool proof, so they were tasty as always. The Roasted Pear Chutney, well... it was very very vinegary. The white wine vinegar completely dominates the dish. If you tried the pork with a bite of pear you could still get some of the pear's sweetness, but none of the spice I worked so hard to put on. The onions were completely overpowered, which might have to do with the fact that I was supposed to use a red onion, which has a stronger flavor, but since I really don't like red onions that much I'm not sure that would have made it taste "better" to me. Maybe those raisins and currants would have saved the dish, but I don't see how they would have made an impressive dent in that vinegar. I might try it again someday but the chops were perfectly wonderful without it, and even the recipe refers to it as optional.

After all the work and patience and waiting, I reconciled my relationship with brining and had a (mostly) satisfying meal on the table. Now if I can just get over my fight with blanching, my coldness towards basting, and the outright silent treatment I've been giving deep frying, there may be harmony in my kitchen.

1 comment:

CaptnRachel aka Tha Pizza Cutta said...

You know, I've never brined anything before so your heads and shoulders above some of us who haven't attempted such a feat! I may be moving to nyc in 2010 and one of my major concerns is kitchen size but I sincerely admire the cooks that make it happen everyday-Cheers!

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