Q: What's the best way to cook a thick pork chop?
A: Iron Chef Michael Symon and I differ on this point, but I think the answer's clear: Brine, and then cook slowly.
Brining was originally used as a means of preserving meats and other perishables. Since the advent of refrigeration, such preservation techniques have become unnecessary. But brining is now popular for another reason entirely: increasing the succulence of meat or bird cuts that lack fat or flavor. A proper brine contains just enough salt to help the food retain its moisture content. Flavors may be added using cider, beer, wine, vinegars or other liquids, and sometimes spices or sugars (I like rosemary and sage).
A brine is simply a salt solution. For a basic brine, use 1 cup salt for each gallon of liquid. For each cup of salt used, boil 2 cups of water. Add the salt and any spices to the boiling water and stir to dissolve. Add the remaining (cold) liquid to chill the brine then pour the liquid into a container deep enough to submerge the meat or poultry entirely. Place the meat or bird in the cool brine and, if necessary, weigh it down with a plate to keep it submerged. Refrigerate or place in a suitably cool place. Generally, I like to keep it there overnight, but not a full 24 hours. Rinse the meat twice before cooking, and discard brine.
After rinsing the chops and patting them dry, season the meat aggressively on both sides. Dredge them in flour and sautÃ© to get a nice crust. You can't overestimate the importance of the browning phase and of achieving color. That's going to create the rich intensity of flavor.
This recipe is in the style of the zingara or Gypsy. The name must be because of the colorful components of this fiery, festive dish. It's the perfect weeknight meal.
Pork Chops with Peppers and Capers
Cotolette alla Zingara
Courtesy of "Molto Italiano" (ecco, 2005)
Makes 6 servings.
4 1/2 quarts water
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
12 black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
6 pork rib chops
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 bell peppers -- 1 each red, green and yellow -- cored, seeded and cut into thin strips
5 bulb onions, green tops reserved and sliced, bulbs cut into rings
1/4 cup black olives, pitted and chopped
1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon capers, with brine
1 cup dry white wine
In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups of the water, the kosher salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, and bay leaves and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Pour into a large pot or other container and add the remaining 4 quarts cool water. Stir to mix well, add the pork chops, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Drain the chops and pat dry with paper towels. Season the pork on both sides with salt and pepper, then dredge in the flour.
In a 12-inch sautÃ© pan, heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add 3 chops to the pan and cook until dark golden brown on the first side, about 7 minutes. Turn over and cook until browned on the second side, about 4 minutes; then transfer to a plate and repeat with the other 3 chops.
Add the peppers, onion, olives, red pepper flakes and capers, and stir with a wooden spoon to loosen the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, place the pork chops in the pepper mixture, and simmer for 10 minutes (the pork should be cooked to 135 F).
Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the reserved onion tops, and serve.
(Mario Batali is the award-winning chef behind twenty-four restaurants including Eataly, Del Posto, and his flagship Greenwich Village enoteca, Babbo. In this column, Mario answers questions submitted via social media and by people he encounters daily in Downtown Manhattan. Keep asking!)Copyright © 2015, CT Now