If you’re reading this, you probably love small farms, and if you love small farms, you probably love food. The two go hand in hand, like pasture-raised bacon and eggs, or pork chops and coffee. Yes, you read that correctly: Pork. And coffee. Press on, fearless reader.
Before I go any further, I should mention that mine is a new voice on this blog. Hey there, I’m Chris. Originally from Massachusetts, I joined the team last spring as one of the farm’s seasonal apprentices. I loved the experience so much that I decided to stay on as assistant farm manager-- though between you and me, the alternative was to drag me out of here with a chain! After seven months of bucolic views and farm-fresh food, it’s hard to imagine living any other way.
There are many wonderful aspects to farm life, but I’m joining this blog to talk about the food. I consider myself an amateur cook -- amateur, from the Latin “amator,” meaning lover (ooh la la). I mention the etymology of the word because I want to impress upon you, dear reader, that I have no cooking credentials beyond a deep enthusiasm for futzing around in the kitchen. Because I don’t claim to be a professional chef or recipe-writer, I offer this blog as more of a way to share what I’ve been doing in the kitchen, rather than as some authoritative treatise on gourmet cooking. Food is the ultimate conversation piece, and I want these blogs to function as a discussion. Please, feel free to share your tips, tricks, and tweaks in the comments section.
One of the things that I love about cooking is that it is an imprecise art. Some people (especially those who bake frequently) like to carefully measure out every ingredient. I, on the other hand, don’t like to measure any of my ingredients, preferring instead to prepare everything to taste. Now, some of you may hear that and think “oh, I’m not going to be able to replicate these dishes.” To those individuals, I offer the following: Stop, take a deep breath, it’s not as scary as it sounds. Cooking is more about technique than about the relative quantities of ingredients you use. If you really like the taste of a particular ingredient, use more of it! Contrariwise, if you dislike an ingredient, you can give it the old “it’s not you, it’s me” speech, and go your separate ways.
Another caveat that I will issue is that you, the reader, are likely working with more comprehensive appliances than I am. My kitchen is currently under renovation, so I’ve been cooking with a two-burner hot plate and toaster oven while I wait for my range to be installed. If you have more burners available to you, you may have more flexibility with timing the different components of these recipes. Or you might just make more dirty dishes.
Alright, I think that’s enough introduction. Let’s dive into this! The inspiration for the recipe I am sharing today came from the digital equivalent of pulling ingredients out of a hat -- a “random ingredient generator.” After a few clicks on the “OMNOMNOM!” button, the program finally spit out the following: “coffee, pork, squash, and hazelnuts. Pick three.” After mulling over various possibilities, I finally came up with an idea for coffee-brined pork chops with maple and spice butternut squash puree, steamed broccolini, and candied orange peel.
What you’ll need:
2 pork loin chops, preferably from a local, pasture-based source
1 quart of freshly brewed coffee
~1T ground coffee
~¼ cup of sea salt
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground peppercorns (optional)
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
Maple syrup, to taste
Butter, lots of it, preferably from grass-fed cows, divided
1 bunch of broccolini
½ shallot, minced
¼-½ cups marsala, or other fortified cooking wine
¼-½ cups chicken stock (homemade is infinitely superior to store bought)
Candied orange peel for the garnish (I found some at a local candy shop)
Brew coffee the night before, or early on the day you plan to cook. Add a hefty amount of sea salt (¼ cup or more), bay leaf, a touch of maple syrup, and ground pepper (if using) to the hot coffee, and stir thoroughly. Chill the mixture in the fridge until it has cooled to at least room temperature, so as to prevent unwanted cooking of the meat.
Submerge your loin chops in the cool coffee brine and let it chill out in your refrigerator for a minimum of one hour prior to cooking. You’re going to get better flavor penetration the for as long as 8 hours.
Fast forward to dinner prep time. Remove loin chops from the brine, and pat dry with a napkin or towel. Rub each chop with a small amount of fresh, coarsely ground coffee beans. You may choose to brush a small, additional amount of maple syrup onto each chop, if desired. This will improve caramelization of the meat during cooking, giving the dish great flavor and color.
Place your cubed butternut squash in a large steamer basket and steam over boiling water for 7-10 minutes, or until a fork is easily pushed through the squash. About halfway through the steaming process, begin preheating a large, cast-iron skillet over high heat.
Transfer the butternut squash into a blender or food processor. At the same time, add your loin chops to the preheated pan.I use cast iron, which is naturally non-stick, so I don’t use any oil for this step. Depending on your cookware, you may find it necessary to add in some Extra Virgin Olive Oil, butter, or a combination of the two. Flip the chops back and forth every couple minutes to help balance the rate of heat penetration with the rate at which the exterior of the cut caramelizes. You are looking for a deep golden or cherry-red color to indicate that the meat is done.
Take the time between each flip to work on preparing the butternut squash puree. Add a copious amount of butter (I probably used 3-4 tablespoons), along with maple syrup, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger to taste. Blend until it reaches desired consistency. One caution: Don’t overdo it with the nutmeg -- it can be toxic in large quantities, especially for pregnant women.
Remove pork chops from the skillet and set in a warm area to rest. At this time, you should add your broccolini to the steamer and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until it reaches the desired tenderness.
While the broccolini is steaming, add a large pat of butter and your minced shallot to the skillet and cook, stirring, until golden brown. Try to stir up any pan dripping from the previous step, as this will enhance the flavor of your reduction. Add your cooking wine and let it simmer for a minute or so before adding your chicken stock. It’s important that the pan is hot when you add the wine, and that you wait before adding the stock. You’re trying to cook off as much of the alcohol taste as possible; if you add the stock and the wine at the same time, you’ll form an azeotropic mixture that will prevent this from happening.
There are many ways you can go about presenting this dish. In my case, I was constrained by the small size of my plates, so I went with a straighforward stacking approach. I spooned a healthy serving of the butternut puree onto each plate, then added the pork chop off-center and balanced it with the steamed broccolini. I then spooned my pan reduction over the dish, garnished the pork with a few pieces of candied orange peel, and voila! Dinner.
When I made this for a friend, we had quite a bit of butternut squash left over. There’s probably enough to feed four people, so go right ahead and double the amount of pork you prepare. Depending on the amount of skillet real estate you have at your disposal, you might want to pan sear the chops and finish them in the oven -- that way they will all be hot when you go to serve your meal.
If you’re looking to try this out for yourself, and want to use pork from our farm, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that, due to outrageous popularity, we are currently out of loin chops. The good news is that we are going to have more by Valentine’s Day, so if you’re looking to cook something special for someone special, this may be just the thing!
- Chris Freeman