Sunday, August 23, 2009

What do YOU like to do during a Hurricane?

Bust out the old barbecue? Me too!

Nah, anyone on the East Coast realizes today was not a day for grilling. Instead, the above picture, Grilled Pork Chops with Peaches, Broccoli Rabe and Balsamic Vinegar, courtesy of the Babbo Cookbook, is one of the recipes I owed you from before I went on vacation (I’m also working on a re-cap of dinner at Locanda Verde). The plate sure is a beauty, if I do say so myself.

Well, to reach such beauty, unfortunately, you have to put up with this the night before:
Can you see all those little specks of… pork carcass?
That, my friends, is brining in action. Mario Batali, aka “the Man,” says in The Babbo Cookbook that brining overnight “will change the way you think about pork chops by making them much more juicy and tender.” What do I say to that? What do I say to anything ol’ Batalls tells me? I say ok.

This is actually quite an easy recipe, one of the simpler in Batali’s cookbook. The pork chops were placed in a Tupperware container, and filled with a pre-mixed: ½ cup of Kosher salt, ¼ cup sugar, and 2 quarts water. The container was then put in the refrigerator for 12 hours (or overnight).

The next day, before I grilled the chops (don’t be alarmed at how ghostly white they look—it’s a byproduct of the brining), I set about making the broccoli rabe. Again, not an arduous task.

I preheated the toaster oven to 400 degrees, and drizzled some olive oil and sprinkled some salt and pepper onto a head of garlic (first removing the first few papery layers of the skin). I wrapped the garlic in aluminum foil and roasted for about 40 minutes.

Once the garlic was out, I separated the cloves and squeezed half of them from their skins into a small bowl (setting aside the remaining unpeeled cloves). Then I added 3 anchovy fillets (rinsed and drained), and mashed the mixture together. (Some of you may have already spotted my affinity for anchovies, but this has nothing to do with my affinity. The Man calls for it. And what do we do when The Man calls for anything? We say ok. Trust me. The anchovies add a nice saltiness and meatiness to the rabe and balance its bitterness. There’s nothing fishy going on here.)

Next, I blanched roughly 1 pound of broccoli rabe (“Blanch” is a fancy word for boiling vegetables (about 3 minutes in this case), and then refreshing them in an ice bath). After the rabe cooled, I drained it, and squeezed it dry on some paper towels. Then I chopped it and set it aside.
Next Batali says to heat a sauté pan with ¼ cup of olive oil (I probably used a little less. And I also used a wok. shhhh). I got the wok very hot, stirred in the garlic and anchovy mixture, and cooked it for 2 minutes. Then I added the chopped broccoli rabe, the remaining unpeeled cloves of garlic, and a pinch of hot red pepper flakes. I sautéed over high heat until the rabe started to brown.
Then I put the whole thing to low, and got back to the pork chops.

I brushed the chops, and some fresh peaches (halved and pitted) with extra virgin olive oil, and seasoned everything with salt and pepper. I placed the pork chops on the hottest part of the grill and cooked for 5 minutes on one side, and then 5 minutes on the other. While the second side of the chops were cooking, I placed the peach halves on the grill and cooked until juicy. (Those pineapples you see were a last-minute addition for a different dish.)
Plating time. I formed a little mound of broccoli rabe on a plate, topped it with one of the lovely (but still white) pork chops, and garnished with the peach halves. Then I drizzled both the pork and peaches with balsamic vinegar, finally giving the pork some color.

What did I think of the chops? Thumbs up. Definitely juicy, and packed with flavor. In hindsight, I only wish I had grilled some unbrined pork chops to compare the two more precisely (I needed a “control” for my scientific method, if you will). In any case, they were a huge success, and super easy. (And quite economical—a terrific gourmet dish to serve at a barbecue.)

Praise Batali.

Now let’s just hope this weather clears up soon, so you can give this recipe a whirl before summer disappears on us.

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