Chai-Spice Brined Pork Chops

Chai-Spice Brined Pork Chops
Chai-Spice Brined Pork Chops

I don’t know if we’ve ever mentioned it, but Denise and I do have a plan for the blog. We have a calendar and recipes we’re working on, and sometimes what is on the calendar finds its way on to the blog on the day we scheduled it. Often, though, we’re working on things and they just aren’t ready to go when the calendar says. We have some exciting things in the works right now, but this week, you’re getting a quick, simple, but amazing weeknight dinner.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had found, tried, and loved this stovetop-to-oven method of cooking pork chops.  I have messed with it a few times, and want to share my version of the recipe as I think it’s turned out great. These pork chops are juicy and flavorful, with an unusual (to me, at least) but subtle spice flavor to them. They are, even with the brining, a meal quick enough to make on a weeknight for dinner. And the meat is so juicy that they reheat well OR make a great sandwich the next day.

The spice blend in here is inspired by what I remember of a homemade chai recipe I made a few times years ago. It’s the reason I bought star anise in the first place. I never made chai with actual peppercorns, but this is a savory dish, so it suits — I’ve done this with regular and Sichuan peppercorns, and both work well.

Chai-spice brined pork chops

For brine:

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 Tablespoons salt (I used kosher salt here)
  • 2 whole star anise (or pieces to make up about 2 whole)
  • 3 whole cardamom pods, smashed to open the pod (but not crush the seeds)
  • 1 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • 2 pinches whole cloves (about 6-8)
  • 1 pinch whole peppercorns (about 4-6)
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2 bone-in pork chops, about 3/4″ thick (I used center cut, as that’s what looked good)

Take the pork chops out of the fridge and let them rest at room temp while you make the brine. You will need a baking dish or something comparable to brine the chops. Lay them out in a single layer in the pan.

Put all the spices (salt through peppercorns) into a heat-safe container. I use a Pyrex measuring cup. Bring your water to a boil and pour 1 cup over all the spices and salt. Stir to dissolve the salt, and let it steep for 5 minutes. Add the two cups of cold water.

Pour the spice “tea” over the chops. You are aiming for room temperature brine, and your chops should be covered completely. Add more water to make this happen, if needed. Leave all the spices floating.

Let the chops brine for 30 minutes to an hour. According to the original recipe, you can brine them for up to four hours (in the fridge), but I’ve not tried this.

When your chops are brined, turn the oven up to 400ºF, with a cast iron skillet on the middle rack. When the oven is up to temperature, carefully remove the skillet and put it over medium-high heat on the stovetop.

Remove the chops from the brine and pat them dry. Season with salt and pepper — but remember the brine was salty, so don’t go overboard with the salt.

Carefully add the chops. Brown 3-5 minutes on one side, getting good browning, but not burning the chops. This may cause smoke, so be ready, but it’s worth the hassle.

Flip the chops and immediately put them in the pre-heated oven. Bake for 6-8 minutes, aiming for an internal temperature of about 142ºF. Remove them to rest for 5 minutes. You want your final temperature to be 145ºF, but remember that they keep cooking while resting, so don’t overshoot.

I served mine with simple boiled broccoli and sweet potatoes I’d thrown in the oven earlier to roast. If you want to do a side dish in the oven, consider turning it on and starting the side(s) while the pork chops brown. This is an excellent use of the brining time.

Enjoy the subtle spice flavors in your perfectly cooked pork chops.

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