Pork chops marinated in a spice brine, cooked to perfection and served with garlic-sauteed broccoli rabe and an apple-onion sauce. Chops don’t get much better than this.
One of the things I love about living in Beacon is that it really feels like a community that is growing and changing in an interesting way. For a long time I felt this way about Brooklyn (where I had lived since the early 1990’s) but as wonderful as Brooklyn is, it’s just too damn expensive now for artists and creative people to do anything but hustle every day to make rent.
I know I’m the bazillionth person to complain about how amazing Brooklyn used to be, but I was incredibly lucky to be one of the crazy, hearty few who lived in East Williamsburg back when it was practically deserted. It was a startling, magical, bizarre, occasionally terrifying place back then, and my roommates and I had absolutely no idea what it would become.
In 1995, if you would have told me that one of the hippest restaurants in NYC was going to open two blocks away from my house, I would have laughed loudly enough to startle the poodle-sized rats that lived in the burned-out minivan abandoned outside my front door. All we knew at the time was that you could rent a 3,000 square foot loft for a few hundred dollars, but you had to install your own toilet and either evict or adopt any animals you found on the premises (I love you Special Ed).
So Beacon may not be able to boast quite the same level of grittiness (thankfully), but it does have a bit of that creatively experimental spirit. Case in point, on a rough-looking corner lot, quite a ways off Main Street, has opened one of the coolest new businesses in town, Barb’s Butchery. Run by a former math professor named Barbara Fisher, it’s exactly the kind of butcher shop you dream would open up in your neighborhood. She sources as much as possible directly from local farms and so far, everything we’ve cooked from there has been fantastic.
We brined these pork chops in a sweet/salty mixture for 24 hours, but even a few hours will help. You can see the herb and spice mixture we used below, though you could use whatever spices you like best. Really, it’s only the salt that’s essential so use what excites you. (Some other good options for pork brine; thyme, sage, allspice, cinnamon, mustard seeds, black or pink peppercorns. The list goes on…).
Once the chops are cooked, a simple accompaniment of apples and onions can be made in minutes. It’s kind of somewhere between a chunky sauce and a saucy side dish (oooo, Saucy Side Dish would be an excellent band name. I have to start learning the drums.) It works equally well using apple cider, white wine, chicken stock or beer so use what you have. You could add a little cream at the end if you want but it’s great without it.
So on to some tips about cooking the pork. I really like making pork chops, but they’re surprisingly tricky to cook well. I swear I’ve followed many recipes and ended up gorgeous-looking but tough as leather chops. After a lot of research, taste-tests and trial and error, we’ve finally cracked the code and compiled a list of tips that will help you get juicy, tender chops every time.
- Buy the best pork you can afford. There is a huge difference between standard supermarket meat and what you’ll find at a good butcher shop.
- Bone-in / fat-on pork chops are better! Both add flavor and help the meat hold it’s shape. Stand the chops on their sides in the pan with tongs and the edge will get rendered, brown, and crispy.
- Brining is a great idea for pork chops, but if you don’t have time, make sure to season it very, very well with salt and pepper. Like, you want to see the seasoning on it.
- Make sure the meat is room temperature before you cook it. For chops, 30 minutes on the counter should do it. It will cook much more evenly. Also, make sure it’s completely dry so you get a nice, dark sear.
- Use a good, heavy pan, like cast iron or enameled cast iron, and get it really, really hot. Once your meat is in the pan, turn the temperature down a bit. This will give you a nice dark crust, but won’t overcook the middle.
- Don’t overcook pork chops! Use an instant-read thermometer such as a Thermapen and take it off the heat when it’s around 135°F (57°C) — the residual heat will bring it to the USDA’s recommended 145°F (63°C).
- Let it rest off the heat for at least 10 minutes before cutting it. This is true of all proteins but with pork, it’s especially important.
- For the Brine:
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1½ teaspoons fennel seed
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon coriander seed
- 4 crushed garlic cloves
- 5 juniper berries (optional)
- For the Chops:
- 4 bone-in, thick-cut pork chops
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 2 apples, peeled, cored and sliced about ½ inch thick
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 cup chicken broth (or beer, white wine or apple cider)
- 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
- 4 tablespoons cream (optional)
- Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar, salt, garlic and all the spices. Heat until sugar and salt are dissolved. Let cool. Add 3 cups of ice cubes. Pour brine into a sealable bag and add the pork chops. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours but overnight is best.
- Take chops out of brine and dry them well. Let them come to room temp for 30 min before cooking.
- In a large, heavy skillet (large enough to hold the chops with room to spare, preferably cast iron), heat the oil over high heat. Once it is shimmering and very hot, add the chops and turn the heat down to medium-high. Cook until beginning to brown, 5-6 minutes. Turn and cook until second side is beginning to brown, about 5-6 minutes. Keep turning chop every few minutes until both sides are deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into center of meat registers 135°F (57°C). Transfer the chops to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. The residual heat will bring the temp up to 145°F (63°C)
- Carefully drain fat from skillet and place back over medium heat. Add butter and when melted, add onions and cook for 5-7 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the apples and garlic, cook until the onion is golden and the apple is softened, 5 minutes more. Then deglaze the pan with the beer or other liquid. Let the sauce cook and reduce for a dew minutes then stir in the mustard and the cream, if using.
- Serve the chops with a large spoonful of the apple-onion sauce over the top.