Thursday, January 20, 2011

W & W "Wine Brine Pork Chops"

Less than two weeks ago I went to a restaurant in Astoria that was a first for me and the two friends who went with me. The evening started out at my house with a couple of glasses of wine and was to conclude with us eating at a little Italian restaurant on the corner of 47th Street and 30th Avenue in Astoria. When we arrived at Cara Bella at 10:20pm on that Saturday night I guess you could say that shocked would be the best word to describe our reaction when a waiter told us they had sent the chef home for the evening. Who does that? It was another small downside, along with lack of taxi service, to living outside of Manhattan. Don't misunderstand, I love living in Astoria, but I am spoiled by the living, breathing, all-night-long energy that is Manhattan. Anyway, we had to come up with a new place. It was cold and the sidewalks still had snow and ice covering portions of them from an earlier snowstorm. We just started walking West on 30th Avenue. It was between the 35th and 34th Street blocks that we noticed a cute green sign on the corner building across the street that read Ovelia. We were hungry and cold and tired of walking and decided to give it a try.

Sometimes taking chances pays off. It was fantastic - from atmosphere to food to price. Right here I'm going to jump from our fabulous appetizers to what caught my eye for an entree - Olive Brine Pork; a grilled pork tenderloin marinated in olive brine. First of all, I love olives. Just ask the bartender who used to make my dirty martini's. I also enjoy pork. So, the combination of the other white meat and the salty swill of the olive intrigued me.

It didn't disappoint. It also led to a discussion on brine. What is it? How do you make it? How do you do it? One of my dinner companions seemed fluent in brine-speak so he informed me with all the knowledge he had on the subject. I decided right then that I wanted to make a brine of my own. One week later and I've got pork chops bathing in brine. (Remember the meatloaf and the addition of thinly sliced pork? Well, I bought 3 pork chops, used one had 2 to play with. I was thinking ahead.)

I used my favorite internet search engine (Google) to look up recipes and then decided to mix and match to concoct my own. I'm a tweaker can't you tell?

First of all, I love red wine so I thought why not use some of the wine I had in the open bottle sitting in my kitchen. It was a Cotes-du-Rhone (60% Grenache and 40% Syrah). I liked it to drink so how bad could it be? I decided that it would be the base for my brine. I used almost 2 cups of it completing the 2 cup portion with water. I added the necessary salt (sea salt) and brown sugar (dark brown) along with some pepper and minced garlic. I also added a bit of apple cider vinegar. In retrospect, and by retrospect I mean as soon as I'd poured it into the mixture, I realized that with nearly two cups of wine I didn't really need to add vinegar. With all the ingredients combined in a pot on the stove, I cooked it over low heat, constantly stirring, until the salt and brown sugar were dissolved.

Most of the recipe's I read called for the addition of ice water or cold water to the mixture to cool it down before adding meat. The hot fluid can begin to cook your meat and that's no way to treat your dinner. I added the cold water and then placed the entire pan in the freezer to further speed the cooling process.

Maybe and hour later my purple concoction was ready to host it two visitors. I poured it into a plastic bowl and added the two pork chops. There it was, my first brine. I sealed the container, placed the bowl in the refrigerator and left it there. There was magic to be done inside that bowl.

24 hours later...

I reached my hand into the cold, purple, garlic-floating-on-top brine and what emerged in my hand was a purple-dyed pork chop. How could I not have expected that? I mean red wine is purple and it stains things. Of course it was going to stain the meat. I was not worried, just amused.

I poured a small amount of vegetable oil in a square baking pan and placed the formerly white now purple meat into my preheated broiler. Eight minutes on one side, flip, repeat on side two.

For a first attempt at brining it wasn't bad. It just wasn't as juicy as I thought it would be. The olive brine pork at Ovelia was juicy enough to wring the olive brine out of it. Mine was not that juicy. It then occurred to me that alcohol dehydrates the body. What if the wine was counter productive to the salt and water making the pork chop juicy. Lesson learned. Next time I'm going to use a different base for my brine and maybe even brine the meat a little longer.

I'll save the wine for my glass.