So, I’ve been reading Blood, Bones and Butter, the memoir of chef Gabrielle Hamilton, and there’s this part of the book where she talks about “Old Worldy” things like moms who put a warm hard-boiled egg in their kids’ coat pockets to keep their hands warm on the way to school but also to serve as part of their lunch. I love the idea of that, probably almost as much as my kids love the idea of getting a chocolate chip granola bar in a shiny plastic wrapper instead of the piece of fruit that I provide for them each day. How I would love to give them warm eggs in their pockets, and I would, if I didn’t think that they would go to waste, or worse, end up being shared at school with a kid who has a deadly egg allergy. Still, I like to think about “Old Worldy” ways of doing things, especially when it comes to preparing food. One concept that I’ve been thinking about lately is the combining of ingredients that go together for geographic, seasonal and other reasons, ingredients that generations of people probably served and ate together before we could all just go to the grocery store and buy whatever we want, whenever we want it.
Inspired by my research into the pork industry in Ireland and the discovery that pig farms were a natural complement to an agricultural landscape that already relied heavily on dairy farming - due to by-products of butter and cheese production such as buttermilk; I decided to combine buttermilk and pork in a recipe. Buttermilk, it turns out, goes perfectly with lean cuts of pork as a marinade or brine in the same way that it does with chicken. A buttermilk brine imparts both flavor and moisture to the meat, keeping it juicy and allowing you to taste the herbs and salt used in the brine in the final result.
While buttermilk is tangy, it isn’t as acidic as some elements of a typical marinade (e.g. vinegars, citrus juices, alcohols) and therefore, you can let your meat rest in a buttermilk brine for longer without it ruining the texture of the meat. This is helpful when you want to throw some pork chops in there but aren’t sure whether you will get around to cooking them tonight or tomorrow. I don’t know about you, but I have this issue a lot and it’s nice to have the flexibility to just wait another day.
In terms of cooking, I intended to grill these guys but it was raining, so I ended up breading them via “Standard Breading Procedure” - coat with flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs - and cooked them under the broiler. Either way they work out to be an easy, quick, healthy dinner that I could eat again and again, especially during summer. Leftovers would also make good picnic food.
Buttermilk and Herb Brined Pork Chops
4 pork chops
2 cups buttermilk
2 handfuls of fresh herbs, chopped (I used parsley, basil and tarragon)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine brine ingredients in a large zip-top bag. Add pork chops and rotate until fully coated/submerged. Allow to rest in the fridge from 12 to 36 hours. Grill, roast, fry or broil until cooked through.
There are endless uses for buttermilk if you are concerned about what to do with the leftover portion. I made salad dressing with the remaining buttermilk by adding herbs, salt, olive oil, honey and a little mayo. I also regularly use buttermilk in pancakes, soda bread (recipe here), coleslaw, mashed potatoes, or mixed with greek yogurt and honey for breakfast.