Recently, I picked up a book about some different, traditional food-preservation methods that aren’t very widely used anymore (almost all of my reading lately has been about food… what does that say about me?). Charcuterie came out several years ago (surprisingly, I remember when it was released – I’m not sure if there was some publicity surrounding it, or if I was already starting to go off the deep end), and deals primarily with meats (though not entirely) and some old-school ways of preparing it, namely salting, smoking, and curing (see the subtitle).
Not just a cookbook, it gets into a bit of history and some of the science behind how brining or smoking work, for example. The authors (Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn) don’t pull any punches, and warn you that this isn’t a twenty-minute meal type of book – most of the recipes listed take a good bit of time to prepare, and once you get into curing, it can be weeks or months before you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor, and in today’s instant-gratification culture, they probably eliminate 80% of the populace just on that premise alone. However, if you’re interested in trying new things in the kitchen, and aren’t afraid of getting a little messy (and being patient), I’d recommend hitting up your local library to check it out.
Despite the fact that this isn’t necessarily a quick ‘n easy thing, and we’re not exactly overflowing with free time, the book fascinated me. I imagine at some point, I’ll stop renewing it, and just get my own copy (when that aforementioned free time is available again). Home-cured bacon? Duck confit? Smoked salmon? Made-from-scratch sausage, corned beef, pepperoni, or even prosciutto? Yes, yes, yes, and yes please. In all fairness, a lot of the time requirements are not active time – there’s just a lot of waiting involved. But, of course, good things come to… you know how it goes.
We tried one of the easier techniques in the book, brining; something I’ve never before done. Brining involves resting a hunk of meat in a salt-water solution. The water and salt seek equilibrium in the cells of the meat, so the flavored brine is absorbed and distributed throughout (osmosis), which makes it more tender and juicy and less prone to overcooking, or something like that. Read the book if you’re that interested in the science. In any event, brining’s pretty easy – make the solution, let the meat soak, rest the meat, then cook it. Very little active time, and not too bad on the inactive time either. If you’re doing something smallish (a couple pork chops), this is something you can prep and eat for dinner the same day.
Garlic-sage Brined Pork Chops
2 bone-in pork chops
4 cups water
1/4 cup kosher or sea salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
Loose handful of sage leaves
Couple cloves of garlic, lightly smashed
1/2 Tbsp pepper
Combine the brine ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer for several minutes, stirring to make sure the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat, set aside, and let cool (you don’t want to cook the meat with hot liquid).
In a large dish, place the pork chops and pour the brine over them, making sure they’re covered. Refrigerate for about two hours (longer if the cuts of meat are larger).
Remove the chops from the brine, rinse well in clean water, then refrigerate again for another hour (this allows things to evenly distribute).
Sear the chops on both sides, then cook at 350 F for an additional 10 minutes or so. Let rest for another 10.
The pork certainly was tender and flavor-infused, and made a nice meal with some sautéed chard and mushrooms. Since this was relatively easy, I like to think that we’ll brine again sometime. The only requirement is that we plan our meals more than 15 minutes in advance.