Thursday, October 4, 2007

Let's Talk About Top Chef and Pork Loin

I don’t normally watch a lot of TV, but I do like me some Top Chef. I just happened to stumble on it about a month ago, and I was hooked. Gotta say, I was disappointed that Dale didn’t win. Yes, I know Hung was very well trained. I was very excited when he put together a Vietnamese-inspired, French-executed menu and showed the judges it could be tasty and sophisticated (although I just couldn’t get behind the coconut foam; call me a bumpkin, but foam belongs on a latte). BUT Hung was so arrogant throughout the competition. In a previous show, he wouldn't even help one of his competitors mash some potatoes because he was “here to win”. Please. No need to worry, dude; no one was going to win Top Chef with mashed potatoes.

Dale, on the other hand, was completely different. He was courteous and good-humored. And he kept it real. Like when he said “I’m gonna cook the shit out of your ass” (or something to that effect). Or when he confessed he knew nothing about cowboys, but he had slept with a few. Great in the kitchen, great sense of humor, cute little mohawk. Yes, he’s going to make some dude very happy one day.

If you’re a Top Chef fan, leave a comment and let me know what you thought about this season and the finale.

And if you’re a pork loin fan, I have something for you. It’s a brined pork loin with caramelized onion and apples. The brine recipe came from this month’s issue of Gourmet. I made a couple of substitutions, but I don't think it affected the results at all. The meat came out tender, not salty. The onions and apples make a sweet and tangy topping for the pork so you don’t really need a sauce, but a nice pan sauce would be easy enough to make.

Pork Loin with Caramelized Onions and Apples
  • 6 cups water
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar (brown or white is fine)
  • 5 or 6 whole all spice berries
  • 1 ½ tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 3-inch piece of cinnamon
  • 6 center-cut pork loin chops, 1 inch thick
  • 1 large apple, cored and sliced
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
Start by making the brine. In a saucepan combine the water, salt, sugar, all spice, peppercorns, bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Heat until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Allow the mixture to cool completely before adding the pork. Brine the pork for 12 hours to 2 days in the fridge.

I actually made the brine the night before. After it sat for about half an hour, I took out the cinnamon stick, covered it and left it on my back porch overnight (because my fridge is packed full of stuff and my back porch is just as cold, which is very convenient for chilling beer and sodas as well). Then the first thing I did when I woke up the next morning (at 6:30!!) was add it to the pork chops in a large Ziploc bag. When I got home from work, they were ready to cook up.

A half hour to an hour before cooking the chops, pull them out of the fridge to take the chill off.

In them meantime, heat some oil in a frying pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onions and apples. Cook until they caramelize. It could take 15 to 20 minutes to get them soft and brown. Add the apple cider vinegar and let it reduce completely. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm until the pork is done.

The chops take about 10 minutes to cook. I cooked them in a cast iron skillet over high heat. They can also be grilled (if you like grilling in the rain). Let the meat rest for 5 minutes before serving. In addition to the onions and apples, you could serve this with potatoes and a nice pan sauce, or you could serve it on your favorite bread for a kick-ass sandwich.

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