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Visit our blog to read about Michelle Barry's adventures in cooking and eating Irish cuisine and to learn about new products and upcoming events. 


Filtering by Category: Meat

Buttermilk and Herb Brined Pork Chops

john barry

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.   

Buttermilk dressing.

Buttermilk dressing.

Pork in Ireland and Jerk Pork Chops

john barry

Is it just me or was it a little weird having the 4th of July land on a Tuesday this year? Because I didn’t have Monday off, it wasn’t a long weekend and the 4th itself was both a Holiday and a school/work night. I think the combination of these factors threw me off a bit, not that I’m complaining.  It’s always nice to have a day off.  Especially a beautiful summer day. We took the kids to a parade and then our plan was to go out to lunch but since everything was closed we just came home and fired up the grill.  I had a pork chop marinating that I needed to cook anyway.

We put our patio umbrella over the kiddie pool so we ate lunch in the shade of the garage. Happy to report that Emmett eschewed his ham sandwich for the jerk pork. Fly the W! Home Cooking 1: Toddler Diet 0.  

We put our patio umbrella over the kiddie pool so we ate lunch in the shade of the garage. Happy to report that Emmett eschewed his ham sandwich for the jerk pork. Fly the W! Home Cooking 1: Toddler Diet 0.  

While millions, probably over a billion people in the world do not eat pork for religious and other reasons, our family eats a lot of it.  We eat pork for the same reasons a lot of Americans eat it: because it’s relatively inexpensive, widely available and a good source of lean protein - plus, it’s delicious. Of course, we also eat more Irish bacon, sausages, and black and white pudding than the average American household does, for obvious reasons.  

Pork has been part of the Irish diet for thousands of years.  Researchers have discovered evidence of wild boar consumption dating as early as 9000 BP, and excavations at Newgrange in County Meath show that pigs and cattle were the primary sources of animal food as far back at 4000 BP. In the 19th century, Ireland was a major importer of pork to other countries. During this time period, Ireland embraced advancements in processing and breeding.  Pig farming developed alongside dairy farming and butter production, also mainstays of the Irish diet and agricultural industry, as by-products of dairy farming, such as whey and buttermilk, could be used to feed pigs.

Today, the pork industry is the third most significant source of Gross Agricultural Output or GAO in Ireland, after dairy and cattle production. And, as you might guess, in terms of consumption in Ireland, pork still tops the list followed by poultry, beef and lamb, respectively.  I recently learned that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland recommends that pork be cooked to a minimum temperature of 75C or 167F.  This is fine for sausages but for pork chops? NO WAY!  Not unless you want tough, chewy meat that is completely lacking in juices. Fortunately, in 2011, the USDA revised its recommended cooking temperature downwards from 160F to 145F after research finding that, in terms of food safety, 145F is equivalent to 160F.  So, if you care about this sort of thing, I think you can feel fine about 145F.  Personally, intrepid pork-eater than I am, I take mine off the grill when it hits about 135F.

Here’s a pork chop recipe that Paul has requested be placed in heavy dinner-rotation.  The kids love it too.

Jerk Pork Chops

For the Marinade:

  • 2-4 thick cut pork chops, I like to use bone-in
  • 3 tbs jerk spice mix*
  • 3 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 tbs fish sauce
  • cup mirin** (or water) 
  • 1-2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup dark or light brown sugar

*I get mine from the Spice House, or sometimes I use a paste that a friend brings me from Jamaica.

**Japanese sweet rice wine.  I use this because I always  have it but water would work just fine.

  1. Place all ingredients in a zip top bag and shake the bag or knead it with your hands until all ingredients are evenly distributed.
  2. Place pork chops in the bag and make sure each one is coated on all sides.
  3. Place in the refrigerator to marinate for 6-24 hours.  

For the glaze:

  • 1 tbs jerk spice mix
  • ¼ cup mirin or water
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbs brown sugar
  • 2 tbs honey
  • 1 tbs lime juice

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer until sauce is reduced and thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.  It will thicken further as it cools. Allow to cool to room temperature and refrigerate until you are ready to cook the pork.

To Cook:

Heat your grill.  If using charcoal, push charcoal to one side, so that one side is cool and one side is hot. If using gas, light only the burners on one side.  On my gas grill I light the left two burners and leave the right one unlit.

  1. Place your marinated pork chops on the cool side of the grill.
  2. Cook for about 7 minutes and then flip the chops, leaving them on the cool side.  
  3. Cook for about 7 minutes more or until the internal temperature hits about 110F.
  4. Move chops to the hot side of the grill.  
  5. Cook for a couple of minutes, then brush with glaze.  
  6. Flip chops and cook for another 2-4 minutes, brushing with more glaze.
  7. Remove once the chops reach your desired internal temperature.
  8. Allow chops to rest for 5-10 minutes.
  9. Serve with remaining glaze and lime wedges. 

We usually end up eating this with rice and whatever vegetables we have around but it would be great with grilled plantains; rice and beans; jicama, avocado and orange salad with cilantro-garlic dressing; and grilled pineapple over vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Remind me to do that. Summer dinner party!

The Wind that Shakes the Barley: Irish History and Beef and Barley Soup

john barry

Beef and Barley Soup.  I eat all my soup topped with hot sauce, plain yogurt and something green. 

Beef and Barley Soup.  I eat all my soup topped with hot sauce, plain yogurt and something green. 

Reading Tread Softly on My Dreams has really got me interested in Irish history.  I’m now reading the next book in the Liberty Trilogy and lately, I’m bordering on obsessed. Like please-stop-reading-for-a-few-minutes-because-it’s-time-to-tuck-your-children-into-bed obsessed. Have you heard the song "The Wind that Shakes the Barley"? It’s in the movie of the same name. According to wikipedia:

“The song is written from the perspective of a doomed young Wexford rebel who is about to sacrifice his relationship with his loved one and plunge into the cauldron of violence associated with the 1798 rebellion in Ireland. The references to barley in the song derive from the fact that the rebels often carried barley or oats in their pockets as provisions for when on the march. This gave rise to the post-rebellion phenomenon of barley growing and marking the "croppy-holes," mass unmarked graves into which slain rebels were thrown, symbolizing the regenerative nature of Irish resistance to British rule. As the barley will grow every year in the Spring time of the year this is said to symbolize Irish resistance to British oppression and that Ireland will never yield and will always oppose British rule on the island.”

It makes you think of barley in a whole new light doesn’t it?

I was already a big fan of barley, it’s whole grain, healthy and delicious. Whenever I think of barley, I remember scorching hot  summers spent in Japan, drinking ice cold barley tea and slurping up bowls of cold noodles. I think of my grandmother, and my best friend’s mom, each of whom knew exactly what I liked to eat and always made sure I got the best bites.

It’s probably not the picture most Americans have in their mind’s eye when they think of barley.  I would venture to guess that Beef and Barley soup is the most common way we consume barley here in the U.S.  I love it in soup too, soup lover that I am. So I was pleased to see that, one of my favorite food websites, recently included a recipe for Beef and Barley Soup as one of their best in 2016.  It might just be one of my best for 2017. You can view the recipe here.

This soup is perfect for a cold February day, even though I have no complaints at all about the winter we have had this year.

And, just in case you are interested, here are the words to that beautiful, sad song.

I sat within a valley green,
I sat there with my true love,
My sad heart strove the two between,
The old love and the new love, -
The old for her, the new that made
Me think of Ireland dearly,
While soft the wind blew down the glade
And shook the golden barley.

Twas hard the woeful words to frame
To break the ties that bound us
Twas harder still to bear the shame
Of foreign chains around us
And so I said, "The mountain glen
I'll seek next morning early
And join the brave United Men!"
While soft winds shook the barley.

While sad I kissed away her tears,
My fond arms 'round her flinging,
The foeman's shot burst on our ears,
From out the wildwood ringing, -
A bullet pierced my true love's side,
In life's young spring so early,
And on my breast in blood she died
While soft winds shook the barley!

I bore her to the wildwood screen,
And many a summer blossom
I placed with branches thick and green
Above her gore-stain'd bosom:-
I wept and kissed her pale, pale cheek,
Then rushed o'er vale and far lea,
My vengeance on the foe to wreak,
While soft winds shook the barley! 

But blood for blood without remorse,
I've ta'en at Oulart Hollow 
And placed my true love's clay-cold corpse
Where I full soon will follow;
And round her grave I wander drear,
Noon, night and morning early,
With breaking heart whene'er I hear
The wind that shakes the barley!