Pickle juice (especially when it’s lacto-fermented) is the perfect solution in which to brine a ham, chicken or chop. The salt content and aromatics are just right to create the ideal conditions for an umami flavour explosion, while at the same time tenderising the meat.
Today’s recipe was inspired by Joel Gamoran, a fellow zero-waste chef based in the US who runs a cooking school called Homemade. I called Joel to find out a little more about his recipe, and he was quick to tell me that brining pork chops is only one of the many amazing things you can do with pickle juice: “It’s also really good for brining chicken for frying, and it makes the best cocktails, dressings and aïolis.” He also suggests adding a drizzle to soups: “It brings them to life.”
Speaking of cocktails, to make a pickleback shot, simply mix 25ml each of pickle juice and bourbon; o, for a pickle martini, shake three parts vodka and one part pickle juice over ice, then strain and serve with a slice of pickle on the side.
Pickle juice is brimming with flavour and salt, which is exactly what’s needed to make the most flavourful pork chop out there. Ideally, you’d use enough pickle juice completely to submerge the chops, but even a small amount of brine will work wonders, imparting its salty, aromatic deliciousness into the meat, though you’ll need to turn the chops so they brine evenly.
Pork rind is often removed from chops and other cuts of pork, so try to find a good butcher who leaves it intact on as a matter of course, perché, without it, there’s no crackling, which would be a crying shame. Choose thick, free-range chops with a good layer of fat (remember, that fat is where much of the flavour is), and score the rind and fat at 2cm intervals so the chop won’t curl up in the hot pan.
Once you’ve finished cooking, strain any fat that renders out of the chop, and save it for roasting and frying other meals. It will keep in the fridge for at least a week, or in the freezer indefinitely. Failing that, pour into a used jar to cool and set before putting in the food waste bin.
1 pork chop per person
1 jar of pickle juice
Place the chops in a tight-fitting tub, pour over any reserved pickle juice you have to hand, pop in the fridge and leave to marinate for at least three hours, and preferably overnight; if the meat isn’t fully submerged, turn them occasionally to ensure even brining.
When you’re ready to cook, lift the chops from their brine, pat dry with a clean towel and cook the chops using your preferred method – I like to start them off in a heavy-based frying pan, sauteeing them over a medium heat on one side for five minutes, until they start to caramelise, then turning them and finishing them off with a few minutes under a hot grill. (If the chops have their rind on, turn them on their side with tongs or a fork and hold the rind against the pan to fry for a few minutes, until it becomes crackling, but be careful of spitting fat.) Serve with your favourite condiments.