This post is less about a specific recipe than brining and a new rub that’s amazing on pork. Are you brining your pork? If you aren’t, you should be. Taking the time to brine your pork, chicken, turkey, or fish will result in meat that’s both more tender and juicier. Once you get the habit, you’ll wonder why it ever took you so long to start.
The rub in question is a combination of granulated maple sugar, black pepper, red pepper, and garlic powder. It’s simple, but the maple really enhances the natural sweetness of the pork, the two types of pepper give a nice contrasting heat, and garlic is, well… garlic!
To start, I want to talk about why we brine. It does two things: first, it disrupts the structure of the muscle filaments, and the dissolved protein filaments can’t coagulate into normally dense aggregates, so the cooked meat is more tender. Second, the interactions between the salt and the protein result in greater water holding capacity in the muscle cells, which obviously makes for moister meat. Brining will cut water loss during cooking roughly in half, with the largest change in water retention being near the surface, where the most overcooking and moisture loss occur.
Another cooking technique that’s often misunderstood is searing. The browning which occurs is called the Maillard reaction, and begins to occur at 310°F. This is why cooking something sous vide results in a very unappealing colored meat, and why you need a good sear at the end of cooking. Something that is oft-stated but wrong is that searing ‘seals in juices.’ This is absolutely false. The only reason to sear is for flavor, but isn’t that enough? The Maillard reaction creates a complex, meaty flavor, and is a completely different reaction from caramelization. One key tip when searing anything: make sure it’s dry. Those steps which say “pat dry with paper towels” before searing? They’re absolutely essential, because otherwise the moisture turns to steam, which lowers the surface temperature and prevents browning from occurring.
You may wonder why all of my posts involving meat are cooked sous vide these days. Well, I’m trying not to post only sous vide recipes, but the cooking technique is so superior to other methods, I just don’t cook any other way for simple dinners anymore. It’s extremely accurate, eliminating both undercooking and overcooking. The humid environment inside the sealed bag eliminates evaporation, making the meat juicier. The lower temperature reduces moisture loss caused by the tightening of tendons at high temperatures, the same reason bbq is so good. And possibly the best part, I can cook multiple meals at once and simply drop them into the freezer, pre-vacuum sealed, for easy reheating at a later date with almost no degradation of quality.
Now, enough about brining, searing, and sous vide cooking. On to the actual cooking!
Start by taking a large container and adding in 2 cups of hot water (from the tap is fine), 1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons of salt, and 1/4 cup of honey. Stir until salt and honey are dissolved, then pour in 6 more cups of room temperature water. Add the bay leaves, thyme, crushed garlic, and peppercorns. Toss in your pork chops and refrigerate for 4 hours, stirring once two hours in if you remember.
After 4 hours, heat a skillet over high heat. Preheating the skillet (preferably cast iron) means it has time to really absorb the heat, so when you add your cold meat the temperature won’t drop so much. While it heats, remove your pork chops from the brine and pat dry. Add two tablespoons of oil to the pan, wait until it starts to shimmer slightly, then add the pork chops, laying them down away from you so if they spatter, you don’t get burned. Cook for one minute, flip, and cook for one more minute. Remove from pan.
While the pork chops cool briefly, mix together the maple sugar, red pepper, black pepper, and powdered garlic. Sprinkle pork chops with rub, about a teaspoon per side, and place in a vacuum sealer or ziplock bag along with two tablespoons of oil.
Cook sous vide at 144°F for 45 minutes, or bake in a 450°F oven until they reach an internal temperature of 160°F, about 20 minutes. Or grill them, or however you prefer to cook pork chops. The key here is the brine and the rub.
Once the pork chops are cooked, finish them. If cooked sous vide, return the skillet to a high heat, pat the pork chops dry, add 2 tablespoons of oil to the hot skillet, and sear quickly on both sides. I like to give them about 45 seconds, flip them, sprinkle a little more of the rub on top, wait 45 seconds more, then remove them and serve.
That’s it! Feel free to use the spice rub on pork tenderloin, or steaks, or even bbq chicken. Be sure to brine pretty much anything except beef. Make sure to get a good sear, and enjoy!
Maple Pepper Rubbed Pork Chops
- 4 pork chops
- 2 cups water, hot 425g
- 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp / 140g salt 140g
- 1/4 cup honey 93g
- 8 bay leaves
- 1/2 bunch thyme
- 1/2 cup garlic cloves 50g, crushed with skin
- 2 Tbsp peppercorns 18g
- 6 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- ½ cup maple sugar, granulated
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
- 2 teaspoons black pepper, ground
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes ground in a spice grinder or pepper grinder
Take a large container and addi in 2 cups of hot water (from the tap is fine), 1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons of salt, and 1/4 cup of honey. Stir until salt and honey are dissolved, then pour in 6 more cups of room temperature water. Add the bay leaves, thyme, crushed garlic, and peppercorns. Toss in your pork chops and refrigerate for 4 hours, stirring once two hours in. Brine for 4 hours.
After 4 hours, heat a skillet over high heat. Remove your pork chops from the brine and pat dry. Add two tablespoons of oil to the pan, wait until it starts to shimmer slightly, then add the pork chops, laying them down away from you so you don't get burned by spattering oil. Cook for one minute until nicely browned, flip, and cook for one more minute. Remove from pan.
While the pork chops cool briefly, mix together the maple sugar, red pepper, black pepper, and powdered garlic. Sprinkle pork chops with part of the rub, about a teaspoon per side, and place in a vacuum sealer or ziplock bag along with two tablespoons of oil.
Cook sous vide at 144°F for 45 minutes.
Once the pork chops are cooked, remove them from the bag. Pat the pork chops dry, add 2 tablespoons of oil to the hot skillet, and sear them 45 seconds a side, sprinkling a little more rub on top after you flip them.