Brined Pork Chops with Poached Fennel
For the last twenty years or so, in response to increasing interest in lean and healthy meats, pork farmers have been working diligently to breed the fat out of pork in favor of leaner animals. It’s worked. Tenderloin is now as low in fat as a standard boneless, skinless chicken breast and there are eight cuts of pork in total that qualify as lean or extra-lean. While this is great news for health-conscious meal planning, it comes with a downside. Fat does equal flavor, and leaner pork tends to be a little less flavorful, a little bit tougher, and tends to dry out more easily.
This is where Pork Chop Brine comes in.
We created this brine seasoning to accent the inherently sweet flavor of pork, while infusing it with a bit of hydration and tenderizing the meat with the help of chemistry. Salty brine replaces the internal moisture that would come from fat and helps keep meat plump and juicy. It also helps protein fibers to relax and uncoil; since proteins tighten up during cooking and can cause meat to get tough, getting them to uncoil proactively helps maintain tenderness. We recommend soaking the pork chops for 3 or 4 hours, though they can go overnight. Once you’re ready to cook, just remove the chops from the brine, pat them dry with paper towels, and get them going in your pan. Please make a note of this: It only takes 15 minutes to prep this dish, but it does need several hours to brine. Plan accordingly.
When cooking the pork, we thought it was best to sear the chops at a high heat on the stovetop before finishing them in the oven. The sear gives the chop great texture and initiates the Maillard reaction. This is the complex chemical process that involves the way amino acids and sugars change when exposed to heat, and it will give the exterior of the pork chops the lovely, sweet-charred flavor that contrasts so well with the meat’s natural savor. Putting it in the oven allows the pork to cook evenly in the ambient heat of the oven. Once it’s reached the internal temperature of 140°F, remove it from the oven, and let it rest on a cutting board with some foil tented over it for at least 5 minutes. The residual heat will cook it to 145°F and it will allow the moisture in the chops to redistribute from the surface of the meat back to its interior, further preserving the juiciness of the chops.
Fennel, with its gentle licorice-like flavor, is a great accompaniment to pork. It’s got a deceptive side, though. When fresh, the licorice taste is sweet and strong, but as soon as you cook fennel it mellows. Poaching is no different. It makes the fennel silky, with just a hint of crunch, but some of the bold fennel flavor gets toned down. Because of this, we boosted the licorice-ness of the dish with Organic Fennel Pollen. You only need a little bit of this vibrant herb to deliver intense fennel flavor enhanced by pollen’s breezy pungency. We thought that a quick and easy tomato sauce would really make the pork and fennel sing, with its bright acidity playing against the aromatic meat and the bold fennel. We chose the Milan Bread Dipping Seasoning as the primary seasoning for the sauce; the tomato powder in the seasoning blend really boosts the crushed tomato’s savory appeal, and tarragon has gentle licorice notes that play well against the fennel. We kept the sauce chunky for textural fun and added some salty pops with capers.
This dish looks like a million bucks and it’s guaranteed to impress your family and friends, but it’s easy to make and uses cooking techniques that are simple and straightforward. The hardest part is waiting for the meat to brine. When you’re ready to sit down to eat, plate each pork chop individually or slice and serve family-style. Dress this dish up with some extra capers and Organic Fennel Pollen, and enjoy a meal that features lean and healthy pork, is bursting with vegetables, and tastes succulent and rich.
- 2 cups plus ½ cup water, divided
- 4 Tablespoons Pork Chop Brine
- 4 6-oz boneless pork chops
- ½ diced sweet onion
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 8-oz can crushed plum tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons Organic Fennel Pollen, divided
- 1 Tablespoon Milan Bread Dipping Seasoning
- 2 Tablespoons capers
- 1 medium size fennel bulb
- 2 teaspoons Fine Sea Salt
- 2 Tablespoons butter
1. Combine 2 cups of water and Pork Chop Brine and bring to a boil. Allow the brine to cool completely. Marinate the pork chops in the brine for a minimum of 3 hours or up to 12 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Saute onions and garlic with 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan until soft. Add the crushed tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of Organic Fennel Pollen, 1 Tablespoon Milan Bread Dipping Seasoning, and capers. Simmer for 10 minutes and set aside.
3. Quarter fennel bulb and cut into thin slices. Poach the fennel in ½ cup of water, 2 teaspoons Fine Sea Salt, and 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, over medium heat for 20 minutes.
4. Melt butter and remaining oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium high heat. Remove the pork chops from the brine and thoroughly dry with a kitchen towel. When the butter starts to brown, add the pork chops and brown on each side for 2 to 3 minutes. Finish in a 350°F oven until the internal temperature reaches 140-145°F; this will probably take about 25 minutes, but start checking the temperature 15 minutes in.
5. Let meat rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Arrange pork chops over poached fennel and chunky tomato sauce. Season with more salt and top with additional capers and fennel pollen, if desired. Serve right away.