Partners in Brine (part 1)
I’ll be the first to admit I am a complete novice when it comes to brining. I only started experimenting last year and there have been some moderate successes (like this recipe) and some overly salty missteps.
Maybe I just haven’t been paying attention, but brining doesn’t seem to be much of a “thing” here in the UK, very rarely appearing by name on menus, in cookbooks or on our TV cooking shows, the honourable exception being Nigella who has been urging us to brine our Christmas turkey for some time.*
I get the impression that brining is far more commonplace in the USA, and I think that I may have been missing a trick from our American cousins. I have resolved to investigate for myself anyway.
An obvious starting place for experimentation is the humble pork chop which holds a special place in my imagination due in part to Joe Kavalier, one of the titular heroes of possibly my favourite book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and his daily routine of sitting down to a plate of pork chops and fried eggs.
The problem is I like the idea of pork chops much more than the reality of them. It’s not that I dislike them; I just find them a little dull. Perfect then for experimentation!
The great thing about brines is that you can flavour them with pretty much anything. In this case I chose Juniper Berries as the predominant flavour – Belgian culinary tradition regularly pairs Pork with Juniper.
The brown sugar in the brine really gives the chops a beautiful burnished finish as they cook whilst the salt tenderises and seasons the meat perfectly. Beware though, leave your chops in the brine for too long and they will become overly salty and the flesh will become mushy and generally unpleasant!
The recipe below worked for me nicely however and I will be doing more experiments with brines in the future. If you have any suggestions on brines that have worked for you do let me know.
*For a quasi-scientific rebuttal of the benefits of brining turkey there is a really interesting article on the subject by J. Kenji López-Alt on Serious Eats here.
Brining time: 6 hours
Cooking time: 30 Mins
1 litre Water
40g Brown sugar
1 Tbsp Juniper berries (lightly crushed)
8 Whole black peppercorns
Peel of ½ an orange
6 Cloves of garlic
3 Sprigs of thyme
2 x Large, organic pork chops
4 Sprigs of thyme
2 Cloves of garlic, unpeeled but gently crushed to burst slightly
2 x Braeburn apples
3 x Banana shallots
100ml Dry cider (200ml for well cooked, see below)
1 Tbsp Olive oil
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp Cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
2/3 Small savoy cabbage
4 x Rashers of smoked streaky bacon
2 Tsp Caraway seeds
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 x Bowl of iced water
Salt and freshly ground pepper
500g Small Charlotte potatoes
2 Tbsp duck fat or olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 tbsp chopped curly parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
150ml Crème fraîche
1 Tbsp Whole grain mustard
When ready to cook preheat your oven to 150 degrees.
For the brine:
Place all of the brine ingredients into an appropriately sized saucepan, bring to the boil and remove from the heat, it should smell delicious! Leave to cool. If you’re in a hurry you can speed this up by adding a few ice cubes.
For the pork chops:
Once the brine has cooled to room temperature immerse your chops in it and refrigerate for 6 hours. When ready to cook, remove the chops from the brine and pat dry with kitchen paper. Season with pepper, they shouldn’t need any more salt. Cut notches into the fat of each chop at 1cm intervals, this will prevent the chops curling when you pan fry them and yes, it looks pretty funky too.
Slice the apples into quarters and cut out the core from each quarter. Slice each quarter into half so you end up with 8 slices of apple, spritz with 1 Tbsp of lemon juice if not using immediately. Peel the shallots, slice each into half and then slice each half into thirds vertically.
Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan over a high heat.
Using a pair of tongs hold the chops, fat side down and fry/render the rind of each chop to get a head start on getting them crisp. Spend time over this or the fat will be inedible, and trust me, you want that good porky fat. Reduce the heat under the pan to medium.
Then fry each side of the chops for 2 min. Add the butter, thyme sprigs and garlic cloves to the pan and continue to fry for around 2 minutes or so on each side to get the outside crusty and golden brown, regularly basting the chops and remove from the pan.
Add the shallots and apples to the pan and cook until softened and slightly caramelised. Add the vinegar and cider to the pan to deglaze the fond which should have accumulated in the bottom of the pan and reduce by half.
Return the chops to the pan, continue to cook for 1 min per side, remove the chops, set aside and cover to rest for at least 5mins.
For the Savoy Cabbage:
Shred the cabbage. Cut the bacon into batons.
Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil, add the cabbage and simmer for two minutes. Drain the cabbage and add to a bowl of iced water to halt the cooking process.
Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan over a medium heat, add the oil and bacon batons. Fry until golden, then add the Caraway seeds. Fry for a further 30 seconds, then add the cabbage stir well for a further 2 mins.
Set aside and keep warm.
For the Pommes Sarladaises:
Place the whole, unpeeled potatoes in a pan of well salted water and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 10-12 mins until tender. Drain well.
When cool, slice the potatoes into 5-10mm slices.
Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan over a medium heat, add the duck fat or olive oil, then add the potatoes in a single layer, flip, cook until golden brown on each side. You will probably need to cook these in a couple of batches, simply place each finished batch in an oven proof dish in the pre-heated oven to keep warm.
When all the potatoes are fried to a golden finish crush a clove of garlic over them, stir and return to the oven for 1 min. Finely chop the parsley and stir once again.
For the dressing:
Combine the Crème fraîche and Mustard in a small bowl and mix well.
Drizzle a couple of spoons of the Crème fraîche and Mustard dressing over the base of the plate.
Mix 3/4 of the apple and shallot mixture with the savoy cabbage and spoon a mound on to the plate.
Place a similar sized pile of the Pommes Sarladaises to the side of the cabbage.
Place a pork chop on top of the cabbage, and a good spoonful of the apple and shallot mix on top of each chop along with a couple of spoons of the Crème fraîche and Mustard dressing.