No. 23: Brined Oven Pork Chops + Cleaning Cast Iron

My mother has been pickling for years, using brine concoctions to achieve the perfect crunchy texture and spicy flavor in her cucumber pickles.

And of course I have heard about all those brined Thanksgiving turkeys.

But it wasn't until last year that I tried brining on my own. I found an Ad Hoc recipe for rosemary and honey brined pork tenderloin and I became a convert. It was incredible.

Brined Pork Chops

Pork chops are easy to overcook, and can become dry quickly. The brine, even for as little as 30 minutes, helps keep the juicy happiness all inside.

This recipe is slightly adapted from a terrific post on The Kitchn.

Ingredients

For the brine
3 cups cold water
3 tablespoons salt
2 smashed garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf

For the pork chops
2 to 4 pork chops — center cut, bone-on, 3/4-inch to 1-inch thick (about 1 pound each)
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper

To make

Bring 1 cup of the water to a boil. Add the salt, garlic, peppercorns and bay leaf and stir to dissolve the salt. Add 2 more cups of cold water to bring the temperature of the brine down to room temperature (this is a great trick I will use for future brining). Place the pork chops in a shallow dish and pour the brine over top. The brine should cover the chops — if not, add additional water and salt (1 cup water to 1 tablespoon salt) until the chops are submerged.

Chops in brine

Cover the dish and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

When ready to prep the meal, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Place your skillet in the oven to preheat as well.

While the oven heats, remove the chops from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Rub both sides with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.

When the oven comes to temperature, carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven and set it over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Turn on a vent fan or open a window.

Lay the pork chops in the hot skillet. You should hear them immediately begin to sizzle.

Chops

Sear until the undersides of the chops are seared golden, 3-4 minutes. The chops may smoke a little — that's ok. Use tongs to flip the pork chops to the other side.

Seared chops

Immediately transfer the skillet to the oven using oven mitts. Roast until the pork chops are cooked through and register 140 degrees in the thickest part of the meat. Cooking time will be 6 to 10 minutes depending on the thickness of the chops, how cool they were at the start of cooking, and whether they were brined. Start checking the chops at 6 minutes and continue checking every minute or two until the chops are cooked through.

Transfer the cooked pork chops to a plate and pour any pan juices over the top. Tent loosely with foil and let the chops rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

The results

I only had enough time to brine these chops for about 40 minutes. Still worth it for the juicy final product.

Final chops

These were colossal chops, so our cooking times were more like 4 minutes on the stovetop and 12 minutes in the oven.

The brine adds quite a bit of salt to the meat, so no need to reseason after cooking. In fact, I may just season it with olive oil and pepper next time.

We ate like cavemen and didn't have a side. Pure laziness. But in the future I would a pair this with some roasted brussels sprouts or asparagus. It would be easy to do them at the same time in the hot oven.

One final note: Cleaning cast iron

A note on cast iron.

I love it. I would use it everyday if I just didn't have to clean it.

My favorite method for really gunked on awful messes like these chops is kosher salt and a lemon while the pan is still hot. (This technique is also great for cleaning wooden cutting boards.) Hot water and a stiff brush also works well for a quick rinse.

This was my skillet about 45 minutes after we used it, ready for seasoning.

Skillet

What do you do to clean your cast iron? Any other suggestions?

Send me your thoughts, comments and ideas at theresolvedcook@gmail.com