The Charcutepalooza challenge for the month of March was brining. For this challenge we could choose either pork chops/a whole chicken or making corned beef. I personally didn't understand why I had to choose one or the other, so I chose both.
I am not unfamiliar to the process of brining. I have used it before on turkey and pork tenderloin with fantastic results. If I can remember and have the time I always throw together a brine to let my meat soak in it for awhile. Brining is a method that cooks use to make meat moister and more tender prior to cooking by using a combination of water, salt, sugar, and whatever herbs and spices you care to add. After allowing the meat to sit in the brine it is removed and cooked as normal. The difference between a meat that has been brined vs. a meat that hasn't is all in the texture and the ease of cutting into it. Meat that has been brined is more supple than other meat. It's a very simple way to improve the meat that you prepare, to turn that dry flaky pork chop into something your family will request. So let's get to the brining.
Chapter One: Rubbing it in Charlotte's Face
When I went to pick up the five pounds of center cut brisket for the corned beef I looked through the case to find their pork chops. The only ones I saw were thin cut - not what I wanted. I asked if they had any thick cut chops. The guy behind the counter said "Sure, hold on a second". He disappeared into the refrigerated room and reappeared carrying an entire loin in his arms. He flicked on the saw and asked me how thick I wanted them. I love that farmers market. So out I skipped with my son in his sling, my daughter holding my hand, five pounds of brisket, and three 1 1/2 inch thick cut pork chops in a bag swinging on my arm.
Pork is versatile. I usually serve it with some sort of a creamy mustard sauce or with some sort of fruit sauce. Either way is good. This time I wanted to do something different. I had this idea for a sort of Italian pork chop. I'm probably still dreaming of that baked gnocchi with pancetta that I made the other week, but in any case this is what I came up with and I hope you like it.
Pork Chops with a Pesto Cream Sauce
- 3 bone in thick cut pork chops (1 1/2 inches thick, if you please)
- the brine (We'll get to this in a minute)
- 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1/2 cup olive oil (this is the time to break out the good stuff if you have it)
- 3 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened
- 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated. Or a little more if you feel so inclined.
- 1/2 cup of light cream
- The night before you plan to have this meal, prepare the brine. The brine I always used was just salt and water. I would use a ratio of 1 1/2 Tbs. salt per 2 cups of water. Make sure you use enough water to submerge the meat, and let it sit over night. In Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn it is basically the same ratio of salt to water, as well as some sugar, fresh sage leaves, juniper berries, garlic, and black pepper. In their book you only brine the chops for six hours instead of overnight. I prepared the brine the night before, and then let it cool in the fridge until the next morning. Then, I put the chops in the cooled brine and let them hang out together in the refrigerator for the next six hours. An hour before dinner, I pulled out the chops, rinsed them, patted them dry and then let them sit uncovered in the refrigerator until I was ready for them.
- To make the pesto, combine the basil and the garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse them until they are very finely chopped. Add the salt and the pine nuts and pulse until they are combined. While the motor is running s-l-o-w-l-y pour in the olive oil until is emulsifies in the processor and the pesto turns a light green. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and fold in the butter until well combined. Set the pesto aside. Cook's note: This will make more pesto than you need. I know, such a shame. But the good thing about pesto is you can freeze it and pull it out on another night for a quick meal that will remind you of summer. I actually make my pesto in early fall and freeze it in individual containers so I can enjoy it in the dead of winter. So for this particular meal all I had to do was defrost one of my little servings.
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat an oven proof skillet that has been just ever so slightly coated with canola oil over medium high heat. Sear the pork chops on each side (3-4ish minutes per side). Once they have been seared transfer the skillet to the oven until an internal temperature of 130-140 degrees has been reached. When they're done pull them out , transfer them to a plate and let them rest for five minutes.
- Meanwhile heat 1/3 cup of the pesto you made with the light cream until combined and heated through. You may decide you want more or less cream depending on how strong of a pesto flavor you want.
- Pour the pesto cream sauce over the pork chops and serve with a grain and a vegetable for a complete meal.
For my grain, I came up with a pancetta pine nut stuffing and served some broiled asparagus as the vegetable. What can I say? I'm a stuffing kind of a girl. Here is the recipe for the stuffing:
Pancetta Pine Nut Stuffing
Adapted from Epicurious
- 3/4 lb. loaf of sourdough bread, cut into small cubes (about 9 cups)
- 1/2 lb. pancetta chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1/2 stick of butter
- 3 ribs of celery, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon of fresh sage leaves, chopped (or 1 tsp. of dried sage)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1 cup raisins or currants
- 2 1/2 cups turkey broth, or chicken stock
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Scatter bread in a single layer on a large baking sheet and toast, stirring once or twice, until golden and dry, about 15 minutes. Transfer bread cubes to a large bowl.
- Cook pancetta in a 12 inch skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, 12ish minutes. Add butter and heat until melted, then add the celery and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 12 minutes. Stir in sage, salt, and pepper and cook one minute. Add pancetta mixture along with pine nuts and raisins to the bowl containing the bread. Whisk together the stock and the eggs, then stir into bread mixture until well combined. Transfer to a greased baking dish.
- Bake, loosely covered with a buttered sheet of foil (buttered side down) 30 minutes at 400 degrees, then remove foil and bake until the top is browned, 10-15 minutes more.
Chapter Two: A Day in the Life of Corned Beef
Corned beef is very easy to make. All it requires is the brining liquid, the pickling spice mixture, a very large pot, and some time. I followed the directions laid out in Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. This included their recipe for pickling spice, which had black peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, red pepper flakes, allspice berries, mace, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cloves, and ginger. It looked a little like this:
It smelled a little like mmmm. After five days of letting my center cut brisket sit in the brine/pickling liquid, I put it in another pot with more pickling spice and water, and simmered it for three hours until it literally broke apart with a fork. Yum.
I decided to try the corned beef three different ways to see which one we liked the best. We liked them all, so I have no choice but to share them all with you. We had each of these for dinner but they could easily be made for breakfast, lunch, and then dinner depending on your mood.
For the breakfast meal I made a corned beef hash . The recipe comes from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine but can also be found on her website. I had made this meal once before, and everyone liked it, so I wanted to try it again with my own corned beef.
Corned Beef Hash
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 2 baking potatoes (about 1 lb.), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 3 cups)
- 1 onion, chopped
- salt and pepper
- 1 red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, chopped
- 2 Tbs. prepared horseradish
- 1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
- 8 oz. thinly sliced corned beef, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch wide strips
- 1/4 cup of heavy cream (I used light cream)
- 4 eggs
- Heat oil in a large (12 inch) non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes; cook, turning often, until golden, 10 to 12 minutes.
- Add onion; season with 1 1/2 tsp. salt ( I find she usually uses too much salt so I always cut the amount in half and check it for seasoning before I serve) and 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring often, until potatoes and onions are browned, 5 minutes.
- Add bell pepper, horseradish, and Worcestershire sauce. Cook until peppers are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in corned beef and cream until warmed through, about 2 minutes.
- Reduce heat to low. Break 4 eggs, one at a time, on top of hash in skillet; cover, and cook just until whites are set, about 10 minutes. Use a spatula to divide among plates.
As I said before, I made all of these three dishes for dinner. But all you need to do is cut out the salad, and you have a fantastic breakfast. This is one of those recipes that is good without me messing with it, so I left it "as is". In the original recipe the egg part is optional. In my eyes it is not an option. When the yolk floods into the hash it is a truly wondrous thing, and I wouldn't make this meal any other way.
For lunch how about a nice Reuben sandwich on homemade rye with some homemade thousand island dressing, some sauerkraut from the local farmers market, and some homemade potato chips on the side?
(Makes four sandwiches)
- 8 slices rye bread (I made mine in two loaf pans but you do what you feel is right)
- butter, softened
- Swiss cheese
- thousand island dressing (I did not use the egg in the dressing. Instead I put it on top of the salad. I also omitted the red pepper because I wanted the dressing to last for a bit in the refrigerator so I was cutting out anything that might cause it to spoil. Oh, and I cut the recipe in half, too)
- corned beef, thinly sliced
- Butter the outside of your rye bread. Spread the thousand island dressing on the inside with the Swiss cheese. Next, layer the corned beef, followed by the sauerkraut.
- Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium and pan fry the sandwiches as you would a grilled cheese sandwich.
- Serve immediately with warm potato chips and a side salad for a complete meal.
You might have noticed that I did not include any amounts in the sandwich ingredients. Sandwiches are versatile; maybe you like a lot of one thing, but not so much of another. Quantities should be left to the maker's discretion.
Hungry for dinner? One of my favorite things to do for a cold night dinner is take a simple protein and serve it alongside a huge platter of roasted vegetables. It's easy, makes the house smell incredible, and you only need to shop for what looks good at the grocery store. This is my kind of comfort food. So I will give you the list of what I bought, but really, you can just get whatever your little heart desires.
Corned Beef with Roasted Vegetables
- 1 lb. Corned beef, sliced
- 1 lb. fingerling potatoes, washed and dried
- 1 bunch yellow beets
- 1 large red onion
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
- 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
- salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Cut the greens off of the beets. Place the beets on a piece of foil and drizzle them with olive oil. Wrap the foil into a packet.
- Toss remaining vegetables on a large baking sheet in 1-2 Tbs. of olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Move the vegetables to one side of the baking sheet and place the packet of beets in the empty space.
- Roast vegetables for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until they are fork tender. Open the packet with the beets and use a paper towel to rub off the skins.
- Place on a platter with the sliced corned beef and serve.
I'd say this month's competition was a meat-filled success. My family is very happy with me right now. They are begging for more bacon and gobbling up corned beef whenever my back is turned. My daughter Naiya said that she couldn't imagine being vegetarian, and we are all anticipating what will be on the menu in April.