Succulent Brined Pork Chops

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Succulent Brined Pork Chops
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Prep Time 15 min, plus overnight

Brined foods are beautifully moist and seasoned, and they're not inclined to dry out and turn into tasteless sawdusty shreds that you have to salt and salt at the table. Here, regular old pork chops are sprinkled with a mixture of salt, sugar, and aromatics, then popped into the fridge overnight to reconsider their own blandness, like a kind of meaty time out. By the next day, they're ready to commit to being delicious (see Recipe Note below).

I love bay leaves and the gin-like flavor of juniper berries (which you can buy in the bulk-spice section of Whole Foods), but feel free to swap in other favorite aromatics (rosemary, say, or black pepper) or to skip them altogether and just go with the salt/sugar rub. It's the overnight salting that's really the key to this recipe. And if this whole idea really, really speaks to you? You might consider buying master chef/restaurateur Alice Waters' 'Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook.'

What you'll need

  • 1 bay leaf, torn into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon juniper berries
  • tablespoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons oil or lard
  • 4 pork chops
Helpful Tip:

When you go to cook your brined meat, it may look a little bit ham-like from its overnight cure, but it will be sweet and savory and succulent and flavorful, with a delightful inclination to be self-gravying in its own juices. In sum: delicious.

Notes:

Yields 4 to 6 servings

How to make it

  1. In a mortar and pestle (okay, that should really be: "in a mortar, with a pestle") or a spice grinder, smash together the juniper berries and bay leaf until the juniper is crushed up, then add the salt and sugar and smash/grind some more until everything is pretty well blended (I end up with large-ish pieces of bay leaves, but it really doesn't matter).

  2. Sprinkle this mixture generously on each side of each chop (use all of it), then stack the chops on a plate, wrap them tightly, and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days.

  3. Take the chops out of the fridge an hour before you plan to cook them, and then spend that hour calming your excited pets. Now, in a very large frying pan or griddle, heat the oil over medium-high heat, then cook the chops, 4 or 5 minutes per side, until they are deeply browned and cooked through: if you press a chop, it should feel firmish and like it has a not-squishy center, but try not to cook them too far past the point of doneness. If at any point the chops seem as though they'll burn before they cook through, turn the heat down. My chops were under an inch thick, but if yours are very thick, it might even make sense to brown them for a few minutes on each side, and then finish them in a 400 F oven for another 5-10 minutes.

  4. Allow the chops to rest on a platter for 5 minutes, then serve them, along with their accumulated juices, to your happy diners.

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