This time of year, when cold dew is on the ground and leaves are falling from trees across the country, is what really made me want to become a chef when I was a kid. I loved the smell of my mom's apple pie, of Brussels sprouts and of Sunday-night roasts wafting through the kitchen.
Accompanied by a tart, sweet apple-pineapple relish, this recipe for grilled brined pork chops, full of warming flavours, is the definition of comfort food. Brining pork is a favourite technique of mine, as it helps the meat retain moisture while infusing it with flavour. I use thyme, bay leaf and peppercorn in my brine, but you can add ginger, star anise and even your favourite alcohol to yours. (If you do use alcohol, bring it to a light boil first, then let it cool before you add the pork.)
You may notice a slightly pink tinge in the meat when it is cooked and this is fine as long as the centre has been cooked to 140 degrees F (for medium done) and 160 degrees F (for well done). Remember that, even after you grill it, the meat will continue cooking while resting.
Chef Rob Feenie is the executive chef at Vancouver's Cactus Restaurants Ltd.
Ready time: 25 hours, 10 minutes
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups water
1 tablespoon crushed black peppercorns
1 bunch fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
4 double-cut pork chops, 12 to 14 oz each
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Granny Smith apple, diced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup pineapple, diced
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon liquid honey
1/3 cup roasted pecans, lightly crushed
Braised Brussels sprouts
1 cup diced good-quality maple-smoked bacon
2 tablespoons shallots, finely chopped
1 pound Brussels sprouts, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
To make the relish, toss apple with lemon juice in a large bowl until the fruit is well coated. Add pineapple, rice vinegar and honey and set aside.
This relish will keep (without the pecans, which should be added just before serving) refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
To cook the pork chops, preheat a barbecue grill to 400 degrees F. Line a plate with paper towels. Using tongs, remove chops from the brine and set on the lined plate to absorb any liquid. (If the chops are damp, the meat will flame on the barbecue.)
Discard the brine. Allow meat to come to room temperature (about 15 to 20 minutes), then season with salt and black pepper and brush lightly with olive oil.
Grill chops for 5 minutes, then turn them 45 degrees and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn chops over and grill for 5 minutes, then turn them 45 degrees and grill for 5 minutes more.
Insert a meat thermometer into the meat; once it reads 140 degrees F (for medium done) to 160 degrees F (for well-done), immediately remove chops from the heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
To make the Brussels sprouts, line a small plate with a paper towel. In a medium frying pan on medium heat, cook bacon until lightly crispy (about 5 minutes). If the meat begins to smoke, reduce heat.
Remove bacon from the pan and drain on the lined plate. Carefully pour off some of the rendered fat, then add shallots to the pan and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in Brussels sprouts and cook for 2 more minutes, then add bacon and butter and toss lightly. Season with salt, black pepper and lemon juice. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese.
Fold pecans into the apple-pineapple relish.
Divide the Brussels-sprouts mixture among 4 plates. Place a pork chop over the sprouts and spoon a tablespoon of the apple mixture overtop. Serve immediately with roasted potatoes or polenta.