Friday, July 6, 2018

Brined Pork Chops with Fresh Apricot & Ginger Compote

Over the years the things I have chosen to post to my blog have been driven by a lot of different things.  Sometimes I post foods I make for my private dinner clients.  Occasionally—not often as I had originally planned—I post explanations and descriptions of basic cooking and baking techniques.  Most of the things I share come from two sources: the things I am working on/testing for my classes…and the seasonal/market driven foods I am making for my own table.  Recently I decided to design a class around things that were all already on my blog—a class filled with recipes from the latter of these two categories….things that I had come up with for my home table that we loved so much they ended up on my blog.
As I was putting the class together—gathering some favorite early summer recipes from over the years (Potato Salad with Spring Herb Pesto & Peas, Gemelli with Mushrooms, Sugar Snap Peas &Goat Cheese, Market Coleslaw with Sweet Corn, Kohlrabi & Carrots, and Pistachio & Strawberry Friands)—I thought of a recipe that has been on my “to make someday” list for a long time:  Pork Chops with Fresh Apricot Glaze from Maria Helm Sinskey’s book Vineyard Seasons.  I decided to add it to the class in order to force myself to finally make it.  I knew if I liked it that it would end up here.

I was so glad I added it to the syllabus.  It was delicious!  And I have to say that I wasn’t surprised.  I love Sinskey’s recipes.  I did end up altering the recipe quite a bit—not because I didn’t like the flavors…or her method…but rather because she cooked her chops on the grill (which I’m certain makes for very tasty chops…I’m just not a fan of standing out in the hot sun over a hot grill when I could be cooking in my cool(er), air-conditioned kitchen….) and she used bone-in chops.  Frankly, I think the bone-in chops would be delicious—but for my purposes both at home and in class, boneless makes more sense (the boneless chops slice nicely so that you can get two servings out of one thick chop for a dinner for smaller appetites….or nice tasting portions for a class).

The brine I used is a simple, basic brine from Samin Nosrat’s book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.  It is a brine that is intended to add moisture and seasoning. It has less salt (four percent salinity by weight) than a lot of brines (and less than the one Sinskey uses), but I like it like this because when I use it I just get a nice, juicy piece of pork—and not something that seems cured or ham-like.  Following Sinskey’s recipe I added some fresh ginger to the brine…but you could leave it out.  You can also add other aromatics, herbs and/or spices of your choice.  Because the brine is mild, you don’t have to rinse the brined meat, but I do any way.  When it comes to brined meats, when in doubt, I always rinse.  The meat will be fully seasoned within…and you don’t risk having way too much salt/sugar on the exterior.  Whether you rinse or not, be sure to dry the surfaces of the meat well before put it in the sauté pan or on the grill (if it’s wet it will stick and it won’t caramelize properly).

The brined pork is delicious.  But it is the apricot sauce/compote/glaze (it is quite versatile) that is the star of the show here.  Sweet….tangy…savory…  with a hint of heat (you can add more if you like)….  It is just so tasty.  The recipe makes what will seem like a generous quantity, but you will want it all.  It could also be used with chicken…or turkey…or even some nice baby back ribs.  I will be making it every summer from now on.

I altered the sauce from the original in only a couple of ways.  I leave it chunky instead of blending it to a purée.  Not only do I prefer the appearance of a chunky sauce, leaving it this way advertises the fact that you used fresh apricots (instead of jam or preserves, for example).  If you want to use it as a glaze or final swab for grilled meats, I think it would be best in its puréed form.

The other change is also fairly minor.  I have given a range for the amount of sugar to add as opposed to a set amount.  Apricots vary widely in sweetness and one batch might need very little sugar...while the next will be quite tart and need a lot.  I always start the sauce with the lesser amount and then after about twenty minutes of cooking—when the sauce is nearing its final consistency—I start tasting and adding more if necessary.  You are aiming for a sauce that is nicely balanced between tangy and sweet. 

The first time I made these pork chops I served it with Toasted Pine Nut Couscous and Wilted Greens.  I couldn’t believe how good it was. (Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture….)  I was so enamored with the these chops that I decided to make it for our Fourth of July celebration this year.  I served it with Sweet Corn Coleslaw and Étuvéed Baby Potatoes.  It was just the thing.  Hopefully I will discover a few other delicious pairings before the fleeting season for apricots is past....

Brined Pork Chops with Fresh Apricot & Ginger Compote

1/3 c. Morton’s kosher salt (or 80g. salt of your choice)
1/4 c. sugar (50 g.)
4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
2 T. peeled and minced fresh ginger (20 g.—if you are weighing, simply slice the ginger)
1 bay leaf
 6 to 8 pork chops (Boneless loin or bone in rib—as you prefer, as long as
            they are nice thick—1 inch or more—chops)

Place the salt, sugar, garlic, pepper flakes, ginger and bay in a pot with 3 cups of water.  Bring to a simmer and simmer gently until all the salt & sugar has dissolved.  Remove from the heat and add 6 cups of cold/ice water.  Allow the brine to cool to room temperature.  Submerge the pork chops in the brine and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours.  An hour before cooking, remove the chops from the brine (rinse, or not, as you prefer).  Pat dry before cooking.  Discard the brine.

Apricot Sauce:
2 to 2 1/2 T. olive oil
1 large or 2 medium shallots (about 2 oz.), finely diced
2 t. minced garlic
2 T. minced fresh ginger (20 g)
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
2 lbs. ripe apricots, halved, pitted and roughly diced
1/2 to 1 c. brown sugar (adjust to the sweetness of the apricots)
3 T. white wine vinegar
1 t. salt
2/3 c. water

Warm the olive oil in a wide sauce pan set over moderate heat.  Add the shallots, garlic, ginger and pepper flakes and sweat until tender—about 10 minutes.  Add the apricots and cook briefly, stirring until well coated in the shallot mixture. 

Add the remaining ingredients (starting with the smaller amount of sugar) 

and simmer until thickened and glossy—about 30 minutes (you should have about 2 2/3 to 3 c. compote).  

After about 20 minutes of cooking, begin tasting and add sugar as needed.  When the sauce is finished, taste again and correct the seasoning with salt, sugar and vinegar.

Prepare the pork chops:
Olive oil
Brined Pork Chops
Finished Apricot Glaze
1/2 to 2/3 c. white wine or water, optional

Preheat the oven to 400­°.  Heat an ovenproof sauté pan large enough to hold the chops in a single layer (or use two pans) over moderately high heat.  Film the pan with oil.  Add the chops to the pan.  Sear, turning once, until the chops are nicely browned.  

Smear the chops with some of the apricot glaze and turn a couple of times to coat.  Transfer the pan to a preheated 400° oven and cook until the chops are done to your liking (an instant read thermometer will read between 130° and 135° for medium).  Total cooking time (including the time on the stove and in the oven) will be about 7 to 10 minutes (for 1 inch boneless chops—more for bone -in or thicker chops).  Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the chops to a platter.

If the apricot glaze on the chops didn’t get too dark in the pan, make a quick pan sauce while the chops rest.  Place the pan over medium-high heat and add the white wine.  Bring to a simmer, scraping the pan well to release all the caramelized bits (if using two pans, combine the drippings into one pan) and reducing by half to two-thirds.  Add the remaining apricot glaze, along with any resting juices from the pork, to the pan and warm through.  

If the sauce is too thick, let it out with water…if too thin, reduce briefly.

Serve the pork chops with the warm apricot compote.  Serves 6 to 8 

Variation:  If you prefer, you may grill or broil the pork chops.  Puree the compote to make a smooth sauce.  After the first side is cooked, turn, brush with the sauce.  When the pork is almost done, turn again, brushing the remaining surface with the sauce and allowing each glazed surface to be exposed to the heat for a minute or two so the sauce will caramelize, but not burn.  Obviously there will not be any deglazings to combine with the remaining sauce.  Simply serve the remaining sauce on the side as you would with your favorite BBQ sauce. 

(Recipe adapted from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey)

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