Brown Sugar Brined Pork Chop
My birthday was a couple Mondays ago, and instead of having a “Mondays suck” pity party, I had a pork chop party! After a weekend of celebrating in the park with friends and dining out at the v-hypeworthy Petit Crenn, I was ready for a low key night that still kept the birthday spirit alive.
Enter the Brown Sugar Brined Pork Chop! It’s brined overnight, then cooked in a low oven and finished with butter in a screaming hot cast iron skillet. Juicy on the inside with a crisp crust. Perfect for a special occasion. Just like a steak, only better.
The apartment was buzzing with energy (and smoke alarms(?)) as Andrew and I danced around the kitchen basting the chop with butter, setting the table, assembling the salad and pouring the wine.
Once it all came together, we sat triumphantly at our wobbly flea market table and carved bites off our shared masterpiece, exchanging weekend memories and sipping a juicy wine from Martha Stoumen, the natural wine world’s current luminary. The meal ended with near-plate licking and some shameless fat nibbling experiments. It was an intimate, cozy meal – exactly what I was looking for to cap the birthday festivities.
I’d always thought of pork chops as a corrugated cardboard meatstuff until I moved to San Francisco and discovered Nopa, the OG Divisadero Corridor fine dining destination. If it’s not for an impulsive late night burger run, I’m ordering their famed pork chop. The towering cut is served medium rare with an expert sear that will have you swearing off steakhouse beef. Nopa’s magic is in its versatility, consistently providing a menu and space that’s just as suitable for a reservation with parents as a raucous bar drop in with friends. This birthday, I was after Nopa-level vibes at home.
To help me out, I turned to the ever-reliable and precise Kenji Lopez Alt, author of The Food Lab, an encyclopedia of all things cooking. In it, he explores the chemistry of cooking, grounding his recommendations for the perfect anything in science—(I recently got to see him speak about his very personal journey of opening his restaurant, Wursthall, at the Real Food Real Stories Story Slam, which I think is just the most magical event series ever. This Freakonomics podcast features Kenji and covers similar material.) The recipe below is based very closely off of his, with a couple Pantry Raid adjustments for #flare.
But before we dive in, let’s cover some fundamentals of cooking the perfect birthday-worthy pork chop.
The thicker the better. Buy the thickest friggin’ chop you can find. Your local butcher should be able to cut a special one for you if you call ahead. This ensures you’ll end up with a juicy (not dry) piece of meat.
Bone in chops only! The bone adds a ton of flavor and helps the meat stay moist. You can use a porterhouse/center-cut chop (with the T-bone running through the center) or a rib chop (with a long bone running along one edge). I liked porterhouse because there’s more meat-bone contact, guaranteeing plenty of super juicy bites.
Brine that baby! Pork tends to expel lots of moisture during the cooking process, but brining it makes sure this doesn’t happen. This recipe calls for a stupid simple dry brine (salt n’ sugar), while other recipes call for wet brines.
Fat is phat. When you sear this bad boy on a piping hot cast iron skillet, some of the fat will melt away and help caramelize the chop; whatever is still attached to the chop will then crisp up on the outside and get buttery (like, spreadable buttery) in the middle. These are THE most decadent bites.
Ingredients (serves 2)
1 super thick bone-in porterhouse or loin pork chop
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Seeds of ½ a pomegranate
2 bulbs fennel, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
Pat chop dry with a paper towel. Combine salt and sugar in a small bowl. Rub the mixture all over the pork chop, ensuring the brine has covered the entire chop. Place the chop on a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Place in the fridge 8-24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 250°F. Place the baking sheet with the wire rack and pork chop on it in the oven. Cook until a meat thermometer registers 100-110°F, about 30 minutes.
Heat oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat until nearly smoking (apartment dwellers, open a window!). Place chop in skillet and cook, turning occasionally for about 1 ½ minutes. Add the butter, shallots, most of the pomegranate seeds and fennel and continue cooking, basting the chop with the melted butter and turning occasionally. Do this until the chop has formed a dark golden crust, about 2 minutes. Pick up the chop with tongs and sear the fat caps. Transfer chops to a clean rack and let rest for 3-5 minutes.
While the chop rests, continue to cook to fennel, shallot and pomegranate until the fennel is tender and caramelized.
Serve the chop whole and garnish with fresh pomegranate seeds. Serve with caramelized fennel.