MARIO BATALI: The proper way to brine

 Pork Chops with Peppers and Capers.

Pork Chops with Peppers and Capers. (David Gruber)

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 sauté 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

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