Curry Favor and Bury Flavor with Brine

26 Jul

I never liked pork chops much growing up. All-too-often overcooked to within an inch of their lives, I couldn’t understand why my parents loved them so much. But flash forward to present day and you’ll know that I adore all things pig, including the humble chop. Why the change of heart? What if I told you a simple bath in salty water and a gentle hand with a hot pan was all that stood between you and the juiciest pork chop you ever ate? Would that be something you might be interested in?

Brining, or the simple process of marinating a food in a salty liquid solution, is perhaps the simplest, most fool-proof means of keeping even the leanest cuts of meat flavorful and juicy, provided you don’t overcook them. The science is a little dense, but the gist is that the high salt content of the brine serves to alter the chemistry of the cells in the meat to the point where they want to hold onto as much moisture as possible. This makes for good eating.

The brine can also act, as any marinade does, to saturate the target with intense flavors impossible by simple surface seasoning. Toss in any spices you would normally use as a rub and watch those flavors penetrate every corner of your meat.

The second key to succulent swine is to take it easy with the heat.  The practice of using uncooked scrap meat as animal feed, coupled with lax meat-handling conditions from farm to table in years past lead to outbreaks of trichinosis, a pig parasite that causes intestinal maladies in most and severe reactions and even death in an unlucky few. While undercooked meat is nothing to joke around about, pork can take on a sear just like a quality steak and a little pink in the middle isn’t a bad thing. Buy fresh or keep frozen and out of the Danger Zone of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit and most meat should be safe to sear. (Editor’s Note: Buying from a farm you trust can also help alleviate concerns.)

Brined pork chops have become one of my favorite cool-weather comfort foods, paired with braised root vegetables or earthy risottos, they make for comfort food of epic proportions.  A recent curry craving had me wondering how the bright flavors of the East might make for a more season-appropriate application of a Fall/Winter stand-by. A quick couscous salad later and I had my answer: great success!

Curry-Brined Pork Chop with Couscous Salad

Ingredient Rundown:

  • bone-in pork chops

Brine

  • water
  • ice
  • kosher salt
  • brown sugar
  • sweet curry powder
  • garam masala
  • cracked black pepper

Couscous Salad

  • Cooked couscous
  • finely chopped vegetables (I used red and green bell pepper, onion, carrot, tomato, garlic and cilantro)
  • lime juice
  • olive oil
  • white vinegar
  • curry powder
  • garam masala
  • powdered ginger
  • Sriracha or other hot chili sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste

How I do it:

Add about 2 cups to a quart of water (depending on how many chops you’re brining) to small pot and heat until nearly boiling. Add a few teaspoons of salt until the water takes on a seawater-like salinity. Add sugar and remaining spices and stir until salt and sugar dissolve. Add ice until brine is cooled to room temperature.

Place pork chops in brine in a sealed storage container or zip-top bag and marinate in refrigerator for 8-24 hours. Obviously, they will take on more salt and curry flavor with longer brining. I have found that 12 hours is a safe bet for a flavorful, yet not over-salted chop.

Prepare couscous salad by cooking couscous as directed (usually by bringing twice as much water as couscous to a boil with a pinch of salt and splash of olive oil, adding couscous and removing from heat to steam for about 5 minutes, fluffing with a fork).  I added a generous dash of maharaja curry powder with the water as to permeate the couscous as it cooked.

In a mixing bowl, prepare dressing by whisking together lime juice, splash of vinegar, Sriracha, spices, salt, cilantro and olive oil. Add vegetables, stir to combine, cover, and place in refrigerator to chill. Flavor will intensify the longer it chills.

When ready to cook, remove pork chops from brine and pat off excess liquid.  Season with a rub of cracked pepper, curry and garam masala. I sprayed each side of the chops with olive oil and added them to a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Depending on thickness of chops, 3-5 minutes per side should do the trick.  Don’t be afraid of a little pink in the middle.

Plate with couscous salad and serve.

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