Honey Glazed Pork Chops with Rhubarb Chutney
As I elbowed my way through the hipsters and alterna-moms at my favorite farmers’ market last weekend, I was somewhat distracted by the following thoughts;
- “I can hear sizzling and…*sniff sniff*…something smells like butter, bacon and joy. I need to find that!“
- “Goddammit, there is no shame in wearing a bra, people!”
- “This kale wrapped vegan nutburger is, surprisingly, rather….delicious? Really?”
- “I FOUND IT, I FOUND IT! That man is frying biscuits in butter and topping them with peameal, chutney, local aged cheddar and – oh god, WHY did I choose the nutburger?! WHHHYYYY?”
- “It is the second week of July, and I don’t see a single stalk of rhubarb in the stands”
That last one confused me even more than the nutburger, because just a few weeks ago the markets and grocery stores were brimming with luscious red stalks of rhubarb, piled helter-skelter in vegetable bins and just waiting to be made into pie. I know that there are certain seasonal items that you just have to snap up when you see the opportunity (like the great harbingers of summer produce, ramps, morels and fiddleheads), but rhubarb should not be one of them. I sometimes associate rhubarb with the spring because it’s the first thing to grow in the garden every year, but with a bit of water and a lot of sun, that plant will keep producing well into the fall, when rhubarb and apple pie becomes almost as compelling as strawberry rhubarb. Don’t hate me, guys. I said ‘almost’.
For the last couple weeks, we’ve been celebrating rhubarb’s bounty. We sipped on gin-spiked rhubarb lemonade during those first warm nights of June, we drizzled rhubarb syrup on anything within arm’s reach and we feasted on plump, juicy grilled pork chops with a sweet and sour rhubarb chutney on top.
In fact, the only thing that we haven’t done so far is make a pie.
If you think that rhubarb is only good for baking pastries and crumbles, I urge you to think again. There is a lot of great inspiration out on the interwebs for ways to use rhubarb in savoury applications, including Tofu with hot and sour rhubarb sauce, an Indian inspired rhubarb curry, duck legs with rhubarb sauce, or Thai rice noodles with a coconut rhubarb curry. A plant so robust and resilient which lends its sweet and tart flavor many different profiles really shouldn’t be contained to dessert.
My most recent rhubarb addiction is making it into chutney and serving it with pork – all pork and any pork. A ginger and star anise rhubarb chutney would be delicious over five spice pork tenderloin, and a rhubarb syrup agrodolce to elevate ham steaks is smack-your-lips tasty. However, for ease and convenience in the summer time, there is no substitute for the grill and succulent brined pork chops are a first choice.
If you have never soaked meat in a brine before, you might wonder what all the fuss is about, with recipes for brined turkey and pork chops being all the rage. The easy answer is that brining is a foolproof way to add a bit of flavor and ‘season’ your meat from the inside out, but more importantly, it keeps your meat juicy and plump. There is nothing in the world that I hate more than dry and leathery pork chops or stringy poultry (seriously, nothing. Famine, gang violence and religious zealots trouble me deeply, but overcooked animal products make me start to sniffle with frustrated rage), and brining is a simple cure for those woes. I’ll save you from listening to me drone on about osmosis, hypertonic solutions and the science behind brining (despite my innate compulsion) because you probably already know. If you don’t know but you’re a bit too shy to ask, here is an excellent explanation.
Honey Glazed Pork Chops with Rhubarb Chutney
Serves 4 hungry people
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 tbsp peppercorn
- 4.5 cups water
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
- 1/2 large red onion
- 2 small cloves garlic
- 4-5 stalks fresh rhubarb (~ 2 cups)
- 1/4 cup water
- 2.5 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme *
- 1/2 tsp dried rosemary *
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander
- 1/8 tsp red chili flakes
- 4 tsp white wine vinegar
- salt, to taste
- 4 bone-in pork chops, each 1″ thick
- 4 tsp honey
- 2 tsp dried thyme *
- salt and pepper, generous
* Fresh herbs are a welcome upgrade from dry, if you have them. Replace the dried herbs with approximately twice as much fresh, and give a nice mince to the thyme leaves and rosemary needles before you add them to the mix.
You can start this process the day before by making the brine. In a heatproof bowl, pour one (1) cup of boiling water over the salt, sugar, sliced garlic and peppercorns. Stir the mixture until the salt and sugar dissolve and then pour in three (3) cups of cold water. Let this come down to room temperature before you pour it over the pork chops because you don’t want to poach them accidentally. Make sure that the pork chops are fully submerged, weighing them down with a plate, if necessary, and leave them to soak in the brine for at least 4 hours or overnight. The pork chops should be refrigerated during the brining process.
Dice the red onion and finely mince the garlic. In a small to medium sized pot heat the oil over low heat and start to slowly sweat the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent and golden, about 15 minutes. You don’t want to fry or sauté the aromatics too quickly, because the low and slow heat will encourage caramelization and sweeten the onions up beautifully.
Wash the rhubarb well and slice it into robust 1/2″ chunks of roughly even size.
When the onions have started to caramelize, add the rhubarb, sugar, water and spices.
Turn the heat up to medium so that the mixture can start to simmer. After 5-7 minutes the rhubarb should be soft and starting to break down; the chunky chutney will be fragrant and fairly thick. Stir in the white wine vinegar and season with salt to taste.
Take the pot off the heat and cover it until you’re ready to serve. The chutney can be served hot or cold, but I like it best at room temperature, spooned thickly over the sizzling hot chops.
Take the pork chops out of the refrigerator half an hour before you wish to cook them. Discard the brine.
Blot the chops with paper towel and dry them as much as you possibly can.
Season both sides of the chops generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle the honey on the chops and massage it gently into the meat. There should be roughly 1/2 tsp honey on each side of the chop which is enough to gently sweeten it and aid in some gorgeous caramelization when the chops cook. Sprinkle thyme on top of the chops and leave them to sit at room temperature until you start to grill.
Fire up your grill to medium high heat. Grill the chops over direct heat for approximately 4 minutes per side, flipping only once. You want to really see the char marks. Also, as you can see, clearly this is before we replaced our barbecue, so please don’t judge the grates. Things are better now, I swear.
When the chops are cooked through they should be firm and just barely springy to the touch. Or, if you prefer, cook to an internal temperature of 145º if you like a faint blush of pink in the center, or 155-160º if you don’t. Tent the cooked chops with tinfoil for 3-5 minutes so the meat can rest and redistribute its juices.
For a healthy meal, we served the chutney smothered chops on a bed of mixed rice (brown, red and wild) with a side of lemony steamed green beans with sea salt and lemon balm. This is a perfect fresh summer meal that celebrates our precious and transitory summer bounty.
Pork and fruit is a classic pairing, and the sweet tang of the rhubarb chutney, with earthy herbal notes from the thyme and rosemary, is a great accompaniment to perfectly grilled meat.
Mike and I generally like pinkish pork, but I wanted to make this dish for a (very belated) Father’s Day dinner for my Dad, the ex-Science Teacher, for whom the thought of ‘undercooked’ pork is a chargeable offense. As a result, we put brining to the test and cooked the pork until there wasn’t a lick of pink left in the center, and tentatively tried it to see if it would still be ‘edible’ by our standards.It turns out that brining really is a miracle drug. After 5-6 minutes of cooking on each side (sigh), the pork was cooked throughout without any question about doneness.
You can see from this picture that the incredibly moist and juicy meat was still glistening, which meant that finally there was a pork chop that both my father and I would eat and enjoy. Huzzah! When we made these chops at the cottage, my poor father didn’t get any rhubarb compote because I had over-harvested the poor beast in my backyard. Thankfully, with a bit of honey and a good brine, the chops were delicious all the same.
It never ceases to amaze me what a little bit of salt, sugar and time can do for your meat!