I recently spent a lovely week in New York, combining business and pleasure–which for me of course, means friends + food. The October weather could not have been more perfect: crisp, sunny and heart-breakingly fall. Living in California, I really miss fall. Winter, not so much. But sunny October days on the East Coast fill me with longing and make me want to do all kinds of cliché autumn things like apple-picking and pumpkin carving (which I checked off my list during this trip with my friend’s daughter Gabbie, who is missing her two front teeth, just like the Jack-o-Lantern we carved.)
Fall also brings cravings for warm, stick-to-your-ribs meals savored leisurely over good wine and good conversation in cozy, tucked away nooks. Another item checked off my list in NYC, thanks to my friend Jenny’s excellent dinner choice: Fedora in Greenwich Village. It was one of those small little spots hiding below street level in a brownstone building on a tree-lined street, contributing to the feeling that we had discovered a great little secret. Which apparently is not so secret after all, because the place was packed and Jenny and I practically had to lean nose-to-nose over our table to hear our own conversation above the Saturday night barroom buzz. Despite the acoustic challenges, we enjoyed an immensely satisfying meal of comfort food with playful twists. I couldn’t stop thinking about my entrée: a juicy pork chop with roasted figs and crispy kale chips scattered on top. So I tried to recreate the magic at home.
After searching online for some good pork brining recipes, I stumbled upon this mouth-watering recipe for Cider Brined Pork with Calvados, Mustard and Thyme by Oui, Chef on Food52. I used this recipe as my jumping-off point and made a few modifications inspired by my meal at Fedora. I followed the brine recipe precisely (except I only brined for about 8 hours because I hadn’t planned far enough in advance for an overnight brine. It was still good, and I’m sure would only get better if allowed to bathe longer.), and then made a few modifications to the sauce and pork preparation, as detailed below.
I still have not mastered the art of food photography after the sun goes down (which makes it especially hard to get good shots in the winter), so I’ll have to leave most of this to your imagination. You’ll have to trust me that it’s a very pretty dish. Fresh figs and kale chips make lovely accessories.
Cider Brined Pork Chop with Figs and Kale Chips
Oui, Chef’s Cider Brine:
2 cups apple cider
1 1/2 cup water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Place all brine ingredients in a medium saucepan, and stir over low heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool. Place pork in a in a shallow bowl, cover fully with brine, wrap and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight. When ready to cook, remove the chops from the brine, rinse well under cold water, and dry with paper towels before continuing.
While the pork was soaking, Mr. T and I decided to take the kayaks for a little spin along the waterfront to work up an appetite. (Okay, October days in California can be pretty sweet too.)
Then back to the kitchen…
Pork Chop and Fig Sauce (Modified from Oui, Chef’s recipe):
A large 2″ thick pork chop
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup brandy
1 shallot, finely minced
6 fresh figs, stems removed, cut in half
1/3 cup apple cider
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely minced
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in a heavy (preferably iron) skillet over medium-high heat. Season pork with a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Add pork to skillet and sear until nice and brown, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer pork chop to plate and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Add shallots to pan and stir with a wooden spoon for 1-2 minutes, allowing them to brown slightly. If it seems dry, or like they are starting to burn, add a splash of oil or a pat of butter. Add figs and cook for one more minute. Turn heat up slightly to medium and de-glaze the pan with the brandy, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Stir in broth and cider, then mustard, stirring well to combine. Add thyme, then return pork chop to the skillet, and place the skillet in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until center of pork chop reaches 16o degrees.
Remove skillet from oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Carve pork chop into thin slices and plate (I served it over a creamy polenta) with fig sauce spooned on top and kale chips scattered on top and around the sides. We enjoyed this meal in our backyard, with a nice bottle of wine by the fire–savoring a crisp California fall night.
Other food highlights from my trip to NYC: A great dinner at Craft with David & Gary (everything was delicious. The octopus with harissa was a revelation, hen of the woods mushrooms were to die for, and I wouldn’t mind a chance to bathe in the vermouth sauce they served with the scallops); I’m still dreaming of the chocolate caramel pignoli tart with sea salt that Julie, Sharyn and I shared (fought over?) at Recipe; and oh how I wish I had been hungrier when I stumbled upon Donna Bell’s Bake Shop in Hell’s Kitchen. I could’ve climbed into the coconut layer cake for a nap (after my vermouth butter bath, perhaps?), but alas, I only had room for some sweet tea. Just another reason to return soon.