Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Pork, Vanilla-Brined

My boyfriend grew up in Iowa. I grew up in Oregon. Somehow I think that explains all his glee at the prospect of pork-featured dinners (or corn-featured dinners, indeed-oh! his cartwheels of glee if there are both pork and corn), as well as all the cartwheels of glee I get from serving that pork with side dishes he wouldn't....well, that he wouldn't order in a restaurant. But it's because I have been hyping one particular pork recipe to certain friends (one of which who grew up in California climes and two of which who grew up under Montana's expansive blue skies), that I am writing this particular post about a particular pork-recipe-inspired cartwheel of glee that joined our Iowa and Oregon versions of cartwheels.

It's not my pork recipe. But I liked it. And, like almost every other recipe posted on Matt Bites, I liked reading about it too. In fact, I hadn't even finished reading Matt's recipe for Vanilla Brined Pork Chops, before I was planning a copy-cat pork feast up here on my tundra island.

Choosing what else to make with such a dish, however, was a little more difficult. It couldn't be too predictable - after all, you wouldn't want a dull companion for such a flirtatious adventure with pork and vanilla. You wouldn't want a novel or distracting side-dish. The instinctual curiousity arising from a pork and vanilla combination needed to be the highlight. And, I needed - for my own ego - to marriage someone else's creative recipe with something of my own. I couldn't be all copy-cat. Somehow all this over-analyzing resulted in a cast-iron skillet of spaghetti squash noodles dressed with lemon and poppyseeds.

Truth be told, my spaghetti squash idea was not simply a burst of creativity. No. It was a culmination, I suppose, of many factors. There was a lot of practicality involved. I had a spaghetti squash that needed to be used and a bag of poppyseeds that I was determined to make my way through. (I have 4 more to work my way through when I finish this bag. Yes. Sigh. I did get a little overzealous with my bush order for poppyseeds.) And there was inspiration from The Red Cat Cookbook, which has a recipe for a pasta dish with zucchini and red bell peppers. (The Red Cat is a restaurant that, in worlds past, was a favorite haunt of mine and one that I can confess I still pine for. Imagine, oh! imagine, my glee to discover that they had come up with a cookbook - with ingredients I could actually obtain....though the zucchini and red bell peppers that could be obtained on this particular day did inspire me adjust the ingredients.) And there were the memories of pasta al limone dating back to even more ancient, yet equally loved, worlds of mine, when I was newly post-collegiate and attempting to be a free-spirit in Tuscany. Finally, as I mentioned before (and as I have a hard time forgetting), there was this world's pantry in a far corner of the Great White North that contains more bags of poppyseeds than any one girl could probably use in a lifetime of worlds.

Nor is the experience of lemon-dressed spaghetti squash with poppyseeds finished. Alas, while thrilled with the prospect and potential, I was not satisfied with the results at my first attempt. I figure I'll work on it a bit more and see if I can't get the spaghetti noodles to be lighter, less gummy and starchy. Then I'll post more than a mere (albeit verbose) reference to it.

In the meantime......

Vanilla Brined Pork Chops - for 2

(based upon Matt's recipe, which came from The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly)

3 cups hot water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 of a 1/2 cup of rock salt (sorry if that is confusing - obviously I'm not good with the division of fractions)
1/3 of a 1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoons cracked black peppercorns
a bay leaf (this was my addition: I love the vanilla/bay leaf combination)
2 (1-1/4-inch to 1-1/2-inch thick) center-cut loin pork chops (Matt recommends that they be 1-1/4-inch to 1-1/2-inch thick, I used what I could find - which was, alas, much thinner the recommendation)

  1. Come home for lunch because you realized that in your uncaffeinated morning state you utterly forgot to make the brine before you rushed to work. Survive the greeting at the door from the dogs. Make grilled cheese sandwiches. Realizing how the lunch hour, like the morning, has passed all too quickly. Jump up and start making the brine: stir the hot water, vanilla, sugar, and salt together until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add the black pepper. Add a bay leaf. Cool to below 45 degrees F.. Matt recommended that this cooling process be done in the refrigerator. Living in Alaska and being near-late for the return to work on a Spring day that was a tropical 9 degrees above, however, I simply stuck the brine outside for a few minutes. I find that the seat of my snowmachine makes a perfect outdoor pantry shelf for such purposes.

  2. Trim any excess external fat from the meat. Submerge the pork in the cooled brine in a large bowl or small crock. Make sure the meat stays under the surface during curing by using a heavy plate to weight it down.

  3. Refrigerate the pork in the cure. The chops should take 4 to 6 hours in the brine.

  4. Remove the meat from the brine and let it come to room temperature. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. The is a good time to walk the dogs and enjoy the Spring weather.

(The recipe continues after the gratuitous pictures of "my boys" enjoying the Spring sunshine.)

5. Turn off your fire alarm, put on a coat, and open your windows. Put a castiron grill skillet in the oven to heat. When the oven and the skillet are sufficiently hot, pull out the skillet and stick it on a medium-hot burner. Dry off the pork chops, and brush on a bit of olive oil. Toss the oiled side down on to the hot grilled skillet. It should sizzle loudly, and leave picturesque little grill marks. Flip it over, and let it decorate the other side. Toss it into the oven for a few minutes until it is popping and sizzling, and cooked to whatever degree you feel comfortable.

[Matt grilled his vanilla brined pork chops. And while this sounds delicious, and I did contemplate it, I eventually decided to wait to bring out our grill until the temperature reaches the sweatshirt weather of the 30's or 40's. For those who live in different climatic conditions, or who deal better than me with my own, my guess is that Matt's outdoor grilled version would be far superior to the oven version. And for everyone, regardless of climatic conditions and/or heartiness, I would recommend checking out his website.]

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