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Maple-Brined Pork Chops

Updated February 23, 2016
This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Brining is the secret to making lean pork flavorful and juicy. Soaking pork chops in salty water infused with spices and sugar tenderizes and seasons the meat throughout (see Notes). These chops cook up fast, but plan ahead to allow time for them to soak in the brine. A brush of maple syrup just before cooking enhances the deep caramel color and brings out the natural sweetness of the pork. Unlike a marinade, the flavor the brine adds to the meat is subtle. Your guests will not be able to put their finger on exactly why these are the most juicy, flavorful pork chops they’ve ever tasted. They’ll just think you’re a culinary genius.

When you soak poultry or pork in a brine, the results are almost magical. The most basic brine is simply a solution of salt and water, but other flavorings are often added, such as spices, sugar, stock, or juice. The meat absorbs the salty liquid, making it more juicy and tender and lightly seasoned all the way through. Sugar adds sweetness to meat and turns a nice caramelized color during cooking. If that isn’t reason enough to try brining, the added moisture makes it harder to overcook the meats. Imagine, no more dry pork chops or turkey breast!

Center-cut rib chops are great, but loin chops, with their morsels of flavorful tenderloin attached to the bone, are even better. Look for chops with solid pink flesh, without white streaks running through it. The white streaks are connective tissues that become tough when cooked.

Serves4 and can be doubled

Cooking Methodpan-frying

CostModerate

Easy

Total Timea day or more

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Mealdinner

Taste and Textureherby, juicy, meaty, savory, sweet

Ingredients

  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • ½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup coarse or kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10 sprigs fresh thyme, coarsely chopped
  • 4 bone-in, center-cut pork chops, cut 1¼ inches thick (about 3 pounds total; see Note)
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • Olive oil

Instructions

Make the brine: Combine the maple syrup, brown sugar, salt, mustard seeds, peppercorns, bay leaf, and thyme with 4 cups of water in a large saucepan. Heat the brine over high heat and stir until the brown sugar and salt dissolve. Remove the pan from the heat. Add 1 cup of ice water. Pour the brine into a glass or ceramic dish just large enough to hold the pork chops and refrigerate it until chilled. (The brine should be chilled so that it doesn’t raise the temperature of the chops when they are added.)

Prepare the pork chops: Place the chops in the brine, making sure the meat is completely submerged. Cover the dish and refrigerate the chops for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours.

Remove the pork chops from the brine and discard the brine. Rinse the chops under cold water and dry them thoroughly with paper towels. Brush both sides of the chops with the maple syrup. Let the chops sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 425°F.

Brush the chops with olive oil. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chops until browned, about 3 minutes per side.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake the chops until they are firm to the touch and an instant-read meat thermometer inserted through the side into the center of one registers 145°F, 8 to 15 minutes. (Don’t let the thermometer touch the bone.)

Let the chops rest for 5 minutes, then serve warm.

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