Thanks to a strong pork chop brine, you don’t have to spend hours in front of the grill to achieve that ideal smoky flavor.
Whether you want to make an impressive main dish or cook up some veggies to accompany it, there’s a strong chance you automatically crank up the oven to get the job done. But this reliance on the appliance means you’re likely overlooking a tool that can create deep, full-bodied flavors that an oven simply can’t achieve: the grill.
“The great thing about cooking over fire is its simplicity,” says Ashley Christensen, the chef and owner of Death & Taxes, a North Carolina restaurant that cooks with wood fire. “The grill brings out big flavors fast by achieving a level of caramelization that you can’t get in the kitchen. In fact, smoke and char are such big flavors that we consider them ingredients at our restaurant.”
And you can achieve this smokiness even if you have a tiny charcoal grill that stays put on your apartment balcony. The secret: Tea leaves. This pork chop brine uses black tea leaves that have been dried over pine fires to amp up the smoky flavor, as well as honey to add a touch of sweetness. And don’t worry, this meal won’t taste like it’s been charred. When the dish comes together, the pork chop brine is balanced by the fresh tomato relish.
Go ahead, give it a try.
Grilled Pork Chops with a Smoked-Tea Brine
Start to Finish: 9 hours (includes 8 hours of brining)
For the pork chop brine:
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons Lapsang Souchong tea leaves or other smoked black tea
- 8 cups water
- 1/2 cup salt
To cook and serve pork chops:
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 bone-in pasture-raised pork chops (1 1/4 inches thick)
- Vegetable oil, for brushing grill
- 2 large seedless cucumbers
- 8 scallions
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup fresh torn basil, mint, and parsley
- 2 pints multicolored cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
- 2 tablespoons minced shallot
- 1 cup Greek yogurt, for serving
To make the pork chop brine:
- In a large saucepan over medium, heat honey until it begins to bubble.
- Add tea leaves, and stir until aromatic (it will smell a little like a campfire), about 2 minutes.
- Add 8 cups water, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Add 1/2 cup salt, stirring, until it dissolves.
- Remove from the heat. Let cool to room temperature. Strain cooled brine into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Discard solids.
To cook and serve pork chops:
- Add pork to brine. Refrigerate, covered, 8 to 12 hours.
- Preheat grill to high heat, and lightly oil grates. Remove pork from brine, and pat dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Place pork on hottest part of grill for 2 minutes. Using tongs, rotate about 90 degrees. Cook 2 minutes more. Flip, and repeat on other side.
- Move pork to cooler part of the grill, or lower heat to medium. Cook until an instant-read thermometer reads 135 degrees, about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat, and place on a rack. Let rest 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place cucumbers and scallions on the hottest part of the grill. Using tongs, rotate the vegetables every few minutes, charring the outside while keeping the center crunchy, about 8 minutes for the cucumber and 4 minutes for the scallions. Transfer vegetables to a work surface.
- Slice cucumbers lengthwise and then into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons, and transfer to a medium bowl. Slice the scallions in 1/4-inch-thick pieces, and add to the bowl. Toss with 2 tablespoons oil and the lemon zest and juice; season with salt and pepper. Add herbs, and toss to combine.
- In a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes with the shallot. Season generously with salt, and toss to combine. Let sit at room temperature until tomatoes release their liquid, 10 minutes. Gently stir in the remaining 1/4 cup oil, and season with pepper.
- Spread yogurt on the bottom of 4 plates. Place pork on top of yogurt, and spoon the tomato relish and any juices over the pork. Serve the cucumber salad on the side.
Recipe by Ashley Christensen
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