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Traditional Cooking Chemicals (part 2) - Salt - Pork Chops Stuffed with Cheddar Cheese and Poblano Peppers

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Pork Chops Stuffed with Cheddar Cheese and Poblano Peppers

Brined pork chops are a good example of wet brining. This is also one of those dishes that’s both tasty and easy.

In a container, mix 2 tablespoons (60g) salt with 4 cups (1 liter) of cold water. Stir to dissolve salt. Place 2 to 4 boneless pork chops in the brine and store them in the fridge for an hour. After pork chops have brined, remove from water and pat dry with paper towels. Lay out the pork chops on a clean plate to allow them to come to room temperature.

Create a filling by mixing together in a bowl:

¼ cup (40g) poblano pepper, roasted and then diced, about 1 pepper (see notes)

¼ cup (40g) cheddar cheese or Monterey Jack cheese, cut into small cubes

½ teaspoon (3g) salt

½ teaspoon (1g) ground black pepper

Prepare the pork chops for stuffing: using a small paring knife, make a small incision in the side of the pork chop, then push the blade into the center of the pork chop. Create a center cavity, sweeping the blade inside the pork chop, while keeping the “mouth” of the cavity—where you pushed the knife into the meat—as small as possible.

Stuff about a tablespoon of the filling into each pork chop. Rub the outside of the pork chops with oil and season with a pinch of salt.


Note:

You’ll have leftover filling. It’s better to make too much than risk not having enough. Save the extra stuffing for scrambled eggs.


Heat a cast iron pan over medium heat until it is hot (about 400°F / 200°C, the point at which water dropped on the surface sizzles and steams). Place the pork chops in the pan, searing each side until the outside is medium brown, about five to seven minutes per side. Check the internal temperature, cooking until your thermometer registers 145°F / 62.8°C. Then remove the pork chops from the pan and let them rest on a cutting board for five minutes.


Note:

You can pull the pork chops from the pan before they reach temperature and let the carryover bring them up to 145°F / 62.8°C, but make sure they do get up to this temperature. You should also verify that your thermometer is calibrated correctly and that you properly probe the coldest part of the meat.


To serve, slice the pork chops in half to reveal the center. Serve on top of rosemary mashed potatoes .

Notes

  • How do you roast a poblano pepper? If you have a gas stovetop, you can place the pepper directly on top of the burner, using a pair of tongs to rotate it as the skin burns off (expect the skin to char and turn black; this is what you’re going for). If you don’t have a gas stovetop, place the pepper under a broiler (gas or electric) set to high, rotating it as necessary. Once the skin is burnt on most sides of the pepper, remove from the heat and let it rest on a cutting board until it’s cool enough to handle. Using a cloth or paper towel, wipe off the burnt skin and discard. Dice the pepper (discarding the seeds, ribbing, and top) and place into a bowl.

  • Try other fillings, such as a mixture of sage, dried fruits (cranberries, cherries, apricots), and nuts (pecans, walnuts); or pesto sauce.


Trichinosis and Pork

145°F / 62.8°C? I thought pork had to be cooked to 165°F / 73.9°C!

Good question; glad you asked. Trichinosis—a parasitic infection from roundworm—has historically been a concern in pork, but this is no longer the case in the United States. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations requires commercial processors that cook pork to heat it to 140°F / 60°C—well below the well-done temperature of 165°F / 73.9°C—and hold it at that temperature for at least one minute.

To be safe, give yourself at least a 5°F / 2°C error window. When cooking pork chops, leave the temperature probe in after the chop reaches temperature and check that the temperature remains at or above 145°F / 62.8°C for at least one minute. If you see the temperature drop down, transfer the chops back to the pan. The pan itself—even off-heat—should have enough residual heat to keep them at 145°F / 62.8°C.

If you’re curious about the history of trichinosis, see the USDA’s Parasite Biology and Epidemiology Lab fact sheet at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/trichinae/docs/fact_sheet.htm. A century ago, ~1.4% of pork was infected; in 1996, of 221,123 tested animals in the United States, 0 were infected.


Salt-Roasted Fish

Salt can also be used as a “protective outer layer” on food during cooking. By packing foods such as fish, meats, or potatoes in a mound of salt, you ensure that the outer surface of the cooked food doesn’t reach the same surface temperatures as it would if uncovered, leading to a less extreme gradient of doneness .

Traditionally, the salt is mixed with egg white or water to make a thick paste that will hold its shape and can be packed around something like a fish.


Note:

When salt roasting, leave the fish skin on. It’ll prevent the fish from getting too salty.


You don’t need to bury the fish too deeply. Go for about 1/2″ / 1 cm of salt on all sides—enough to take the brunt of the surface temperature but not so much that the center of the fish takes too long to actually reach temperature.

Try this with a whole fish, something medium to large (2 to 5 lbs / 1 to 2 kilos), such as a striped bass or rockfish (check http://seafoodwatch.com for suggestions). Rinse the fish thoroughly, and add some herbs (rosemary, bay leaf, etc.) and lemon wedges in the center. Line a baking pan with parchment paper (this’ll make cleanup easier), and add a thin layer of salt. Place the fish on top of the salt, and then pack the rest of the salt around the sides and top of the fish.

Bake the fish in an oven set to 400–450°F / 200–230°C, using a probe thermometer set to beep when the internal temperature reaches 125°F / 52°C. Remove from oven and let rest 5 to 10 minutes (during which carryover will bring the temp up to 130°F / 54°C). Crack open the layer of salt and serve.

Notes

  • Don’t have a probe thermometer? The Canadian Department of Marine Fisheries recommends measuring the thickest part of the fish and cooking for 10 minutes per inch. (Add ~10 minutes for the 1″ / 2.5 cm of salt around the fish.)

  • Try this with other foods, such as pork loin (add spices—black pepper, cinnamon, cayenne pepper—to the salt mixture) or even entire standing rib roasts.

  • Sugar can also work as a “packing material,” provided that the oven temperature remains sufficiently low. Salt melts at 1474°F / 801°C, well above oven temperature; sugar melts at 367°F / 186°C. Given this, you should be able to do the equivalent of salt roasting with sugar at temperatures below 367°F / 186°C (try around 325°F / 163°C). However, it takes less water to dissolve the same amount of sugar, so moist items such as fruits will end up giving off too much water for this to work. When I tried “sugar roasting” an apple at 340°F / 170°C, the moisture in the apple was enough to allow the sugar to dissolve into a syrup. It was still delicious, though.

    100 grams of salt (left) and 100 grams of sugar (right), each with 30 grams of water.

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