Friday, June 23, 2006

Dinner for one. adventures in brining.

I frequently brine chickens before roasting them, mixing up complex concoctions of herbs, salt, spices, lemons, and water, leaving a sticky trail of honey across the countertop. Thanksgiving inevitably finds me wrestling turkeys in and out of unwieldy buckets of salt water, vegetable broth, twiggy bits of rosemary, peppercorns, and countless other things. Brining has never failed me, always delivering moist, flavorful meat even if I've left the birds in the oven just a bit too long. But pork chops were undiscovered territory. Until tonight.

This morning before work I made a brine composed of equal amounts of brown sugar and kosher salt, a few sloshes of Chinese cooking wine, and a handful of sliced ginger, microwaved in a pyrex meauring cup until the salt and sugar had dissolved. Poured it all into a mixing bowl, added water until the mixture was cool enough, and it took only a minute to slip the pork chops in and then shove everything into the fridge. I came home after a long day, rinsed off the brine, brushed the chops with soy sauce, and grilled them in a ridged cast-iron grill pan. They were incredibly juicy, aromatic with the fragrant ginger and wine. The heavy, evenly heated pan branded the chops with perfectly blackened stripes on each side, leaving them tender and white between those stripes of crust. All I needed to complete the meal was some crunchy sliced cucumbers and a plate of bread and butter. I have not yet reached perfection - I still feel that they were a little on the salty side, so I have to work on the proportions and brining time - but it was more than excellent.

Dessert was an experiment as well. Last night I had discovered the mysterious alchemy of fresh strawberries drizzled and tossed with balsamic vinegar, a spoonful of that expensive, elusive, elixir, barely enough to just kiss each slice of fruit. The dark, syrupy balsamic intensified the color, the flavor of the berries, turning their fragrant sweetness into something deeper and more mysterious; the bright flesh turned a deep ruby-red, seemed to glow at the bottom of the bowl. With a vast cloud of whipped cream, they were incredible. Tonight I wanted to take it to another level. I took my last brownie, left over from a few nights before, split it in half, covered it with the marinated strawberries so that the dripping juices mingled with the balsamic and soaked into the slightly dry (three days old) brownie, and topped the whole thing with an avalanche of whipped cream. It was a study of contrasts in texture and flavor, at the bottom, a chewy layer of chocolately, nutty brownie, heaped with lightly tangy, sweet strawberries, and finally the vanilla-scented cloud of whipped cream. Heavenly.