For the past few months, I’ve been buying kosher chicken breasts from Trader Joe’s not because I prefer kosher chicken breasts but because Trader Joe’s is underneath my gym and it’s way easier to grab chicken there than to make an extra stop on my way home. The problem with this is that kosher chicken breasts are brined in salt water and, as a result, they’ve spoiled Craig for more ethical, more sustainable chicken from our local butchers. I know this because I recently bought chicken from one of them, sprinkled it with salt, and cooked it and though Craig enjoyed it–he enjoys all of my cooking–he didn’t like it as much as the brined stuff I get much more cheaply after jogging for 60 minutes to the Footloose soundtrack. Brining, it turns out, is a powerful technique.
Which is why, upon returning home one night with pork chops from McCall’s, I decided to give them a quick brine before cooking them in a super-hot cast iron skillet. My brine strategy was this: heat 2 cups of water with 1/4 cup salt, lemon peel, bay leaf, a chile de Arbol, and 2 crushed cloves of garlic.
Then, once it boils for 60 seconds or so, turn off the heat and add two cups of icy ice water to help cool it down immediately.
Why do it like that? Because heating up the liquid activates the aromatics and allows the salt to dissolve. But once hot, you can’t add your pork chops because then it’d be a breeding ground for bacteria. So you have to cool it back down quickly. The ice doesn’t actually do it; after that, I stuck the pot in my freezer for another 15 minutes. Then, when the liquid was at room temperature, I added the pork chops which I pricked, in a few places, with a fork.
I left them like that for an hour at room temperature, turning them over every so often. When it was time to make dinner, I cut a cauliflower into florets and heated the largest non-stick skillet I had with a big glug of olive oil. When it was hot, I added all the florets and a big sprinkling of salt.
Cook that for a while, about 20 minutes or so, tossing and turning all the while–you don’t want the cauliflower to burn–adding, at the very, very end chopped garlic and parsley and whatever else you’d like (chile flakes, lemon juice, etc). Meanwhile, I heated my cast iron skillet with just salt–using this Julia Moskin technique–to get it super hot without oil catching on fire:
When it started smoking, I patted the pork chops very dry and let them cook in there; about 2 to 3 minutes on that first side until it was golden brown, then a flip, then up on its side to render some of the fat. You’ll know it’s done when you press down and get a little resistance, but not no resistance (then you’ve overcooked it).
The resulting pork chops were infused with so much flavor from the brine, and also incredibly moist. The only drawback is that I don’t think they brown up as much doing it this way. It’s a fine trade-off, though, because it’s the best pork chop dinner I’ve ever made.
Now if only Trader Joe’s sold kosher pork chops, we’d be in business.