Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Maple-Brined Pork Chops, Brussels Sprouts, and Baked Potatoes

Tonight was a banner night in my little cave, dinner-wise. Tonight, I gave into my Filipino instincts and had a glorious, pork-focused dinner...Since Monday was a federal holiday, I took the opportunity to make a recipe that I've been scoping for a few weeks, Maple-Brined Pork Chops. We try to eat a balanced meal over here, so I decided to add in some greens with Bacon Brussels Sprouts, and a starch with some baked potatoes.

Click below for the recipes!

Tonight's meal actually began on Monday night, with making the brine.  I love brining meat.  It may be slightly more work, but it's worth it for the juicy, flavorful results you get.  I feel like brining pork and turkey is especially effective to avoid tough, dry meat.  I found this recipe on Cooking Up A Storm, and was a little afraid that this particular brine recipe seemed overly sweet, but I shouldn't have worried.  The sweetness is perfectly balanced by the salt and meaty goodness of the pork.
For the Brine:
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup coarse salt
1tbsp mustard seed
1tbsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
10 sprigs fresh thyme, coarsely chopped

As with any brine solution, you want to dissolve all the brine ingredients in water.  To do this, I combined all the brine ingredients with 4 cups of water in a pot, and brought it just to a boil, so that the sugar and salt dissolved. I then took it off the heat, let it cool to room temperature, and added one cup of ice water. I poured the brine into a container big enough to fit the chops, and stuck it in the fridge until it was cold (I guess this is to ensure that you don't raise the temp of the chops).  I used 5 bone-in center 1-inch thick pork chops, placed them into the brine, making sure they were completely submerged, covered the container and forgot about them for 48 hours.

In terms of tonight's preparations, I started out with your basic baked potato. I got some huge baked potatoes from Whole Foods, so I scrubbed them, poked them with a fork, and stuck them in the microwave for about 8 minutes.  Then I rubbed them with olive oil, rolled them in salt and stuck them in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.  They came out absolutely perfect:  crispy skin and fluffy insides.  I poked a line of holes down the middle with a fork, pushed in the ends (so the potato pops open!), and added some butter and sour cream.

Next, I turned my attention back to the chops (remember them?!).  I took them out of the brine, rinsed the chops under cold water and dried them with paper towels. Then I slathered each chop with maple syrup,covered the dish with foil and left them to stand at room temp for 1 hour.

At this point, it was time to start the Brussels sprouts.  I'm actually a pretty recent Brussels sprouts convert.  Before a couple of years ago, I'd never even had them.  Being from a non-white family, my mom had plenty of other "good for you" dishes to torture me with.  In fact, she'd never even tried Brussels sprouts until I turned her on to them.  My sister introduced me to this delicious green with a bacon-y good recipe from Rachel Ray.  I, of course, always succumb to the devil on my shoulder and triple the bacon...

9 slices bacon, chopped

1 large shallot, chopped

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed, small spouts left whole, larger spouts halved (I used these beautiful baby Brussels sprouts from Whole Foods)

Salt and pepper, to your taste
1 cup chicken broth

First I browned the bacon in a skillet over medium high heat. I like my bacon crispy, but not too too cripsy.  I removed the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon, leaving the rendered fat in the pan.

The original recipe calls for additional olive oil, but because I used so much extra bacon, I just used the bacon fat by itself.  I added the chopped shallots to the pan and sauteed for a couple of minutes, making sure not to overcook or fry them. I then added the Brussels spouts, and made sure that all the sprouts were covered with the bacon fat.  I seasoned with salt, pepper and about a tablespoon of brown sugar (Mark's suggestion), and cooked for 2 to 3 minutes until the sprouts started to soften.  I added the broth, brought it just to a boil, covered and reduced heat to medium low. 

I cooked the sprouts for about 10 minutes, removed from heat, and sprinkled the crumbled bacon on top.

(At this point, I took the potatoes out of the oven and wrapped them in foil to keep warm, and raised the oven temp to 425 degrees.)  I heated a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat, then browned both sides of the pork chops until golden.

Then I stuck them in the oven to cook through for about 10 minutes.

Here is the finished product:

An incredibly bacon-y, delicious, fairly simple meal.  Well-worth the time.

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