Pork and Pickles
Since some of the Gents on the Masthead have shared their cooking treats with us, I’ve decided to pass on a little cheap-eating trick I discovered about four years ago.
There’s really not a wrong way to do this, but it works superbly and I think you’ll find it highly flavorful.
My secret to making tender, juicy, flavorful pork chops (or tenderloin cuts, or other pork cuts that aren’t bacon-ey in nature) is: pickle juice marinade.
Before you express disgust, I should probably go through the thought process for this one. Pickle juice is amazingly well suited to being made into a marinade, because it was basically a vegetable marinade to start with. I personally find that polish or kosher dill pickle juice works best, and that the juice from cold pickles (Claussen’s, or your local market’s home brand version) works a little better than the non-refrigerated varieties due to lower salt content, but sweet pickle juice can be used if you like your meats sweeter and the unrefrigerated stuff works reasonably well with just a little dilution.
Looking at the basic ingredients of pickle juice, we’ve got:
– Brine (salty water)
– Bay Leaf
– Mustard Seed
– Black pepper or peppercorns
Cost at my local grocery to assemble these all individually: well over $25. But I’ve got them all pre-assembled for less than $4 per jar, and each jar’s usually good for 2-3 batches of marinade. Plus, I like pickles, so I like the idea of having something to do with the leftover juice other than drinking it straight or trying to make pickletinis.
Claussen also adds a little bit of chili, but not enough to really disturb the taste. The only other thing you’ll find in your brine is the back-infused flavor from the cucumbers that became pickles, which is remarkably similar to celery salt in taste after the curing process.
So, how to turn this into a marinade? Grab a gallon ziplock bag. Pour about 1 cup of the pickle brine into it, along with as many of the floating spices as feel like coming along for the ride. Add roughly 1/3 cup of your favorite marinating oil. Add in any miscellaneous spices you think would be good – parsley, or thyme, or a pinch of rosemary, or whatever else you’re willing to attempt (thai lime leaves fresh and bruised will make it quite interesting). If you are feeling adventurous and want to tweak the taste, up to 1/3 cup of vinegar or reasonably acidic juice (apple cider vinegar or straight lemon juice work very well) can also be added at this point.
Zip up tight, shake your bag really well to mix it all together, then add in your pork cuts; squeeze out the air as best you can, zip up tight again, and then marinate in the refrigerator overnight or longer (they’ll still be tasty at roughly 4 days, if you can’t make them the next day). Flip the bag over about once a day or so. Remove the cuts from the bag when you’re ready to cook them and grill to your desired level. You’ll find an amazingly tender and flavorful cut waiting for you that really desires no sauce or anything else for enjoyment.
If you find that the pickle flavor is too strong for your tastes with this recipe, reduce the amount of pickle juice by 1/4 cup or so and compensate with equal parts oil and vinegar on your next attempt.