Every home cook, after a certain amount of banging about in the kitchen, aspires to become better. At least, they desire to become better or they throw in the towel and go back to ordering take-out.
I've been cooking "seriously" for about five years now, and I'll be honest with you - I've been looking for opportunities to elevate my game. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, yet I'll admit there will be months where I feel frustration if every single dish does not meet the mark I've set for myself.
It's true, I'm a perfectionist, but I like to feel my skills are improving, however gradually that may be happening. So I was excited to come across Tyler Florence's new cookbook, Inside The Test Kitchen.
The premise is brilliant: After getting bombarded by responses when he asked his Twitter followers what they wanted to learn how to cook, Florence was astonished to discover most people wanted to learn how to cook recipes that were already out there. He reasoned there was a missing link, something people weren't "getting" from recipes they'd already tried.
Raise your hand if you've been there - staring down disappointingly at a recipe you followed step-by-step that just didn't work. Yeah, me too.
And so Florence developed a cookbook born by social media (he even shot all the food pics in the book with an IPad), something that Julia Child came close to when she developed her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. While she didn't have the advantage of polling her followers on the interweb, she recognized the same need Tyler does: people can cook well if they have good instructions and think outside the box.
You will recognize nearly every recipe in this cookbook - they're all on your bookshelves right now in countless other cookbooks (often presented in dry, clinical bullet points). What Tyler brings to the table that is a game-changer is detailed information behind the concept and recreation of an old classic. He and his team have taken really great recipes and made them even better by taking advantage of every opportunity to build flavor.
That starts with using local ingredients that are in season. A no-brainer and something as home cooks we're finally agreeing to, but Tyler "steps it up another notch" (thanks, Emeril) by embracing the idea of trying something new - and he encourages you to do the same.
- You (yes, you!) can produce amazing, restaurant-quality fried chicken at home by roasting it low and slow first, then brining it in buttermilk and frying it quickly in herb-infused oil.
- Watch the old green-bean casserole lose it's spot as a favorite on your Thanksgiving table as it makes way for the more up scaled Green Bean Poutine.
- Spatchcocking your turkey allows you to roast it in one hour and 45 minutes - giving you a more targeted cooking time.
- Bringing pork chops in flavors that occur naturally in pork (brown sugar, porcini mushrooms, nutty almond milk) puts you ahead of the game by intensifying those porky flavors instead of masking them
When I read about Tyler's unique twist on brining ingredients for pork chops, I knew I'd found the first recipe I wanted to try. I've never liked pork chops (my mother adored them and would order them every time we ate out at restaurants). In my experience they were often bland and over-cooked. "Move along, please, nothing to see here" I murmured under my breath whenever I would see them on a restaurant menu.
I have never been so happy to be proven wrong. I've included the recipe below, along with a recipe for some roasted fennel to accompany the chops. Thank you, Tyler. I now have a new "standard" to compare every recipe I come across. You set the bar pretty high. Game on!
Seared, Brined Pork Chops
Recipe by Tyler Florence
- 1 quart Almond Milk Brine (instructions below)
- 4 (1-inch thick) pork chops
- Grapeseed or vegetable oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Milk Brine Ingredients
- 1 quart unsweetened almond milk
- ¼ cup salt
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 2 fresh sage leaves
- 1 thyme sprig
- ½ bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon dried porcini mushroom pieces
Soak the pork chops in the brine in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Remove from the brine and allow the chops to come to room temperature, then pat dry with paper towels. As they have been brined, there is no need to season the chops before cooking.
Heat a heavy saute pan over medium-high heat. Add enough oil to generously slick the bottom of the pan. When the oil shimmers, carefully add as many pork chops as will fit comfortably in the pan. Sear the pork chops for about 5 minutes on each side, so that they have a nice, even brown color and are cooked to medium (145-degrees). Remove and season with salt and pepper to taste. If cooking in two batches, rinse and wipe out the pan between batches, add the remaining chops, and cook as described for the first batch.
Almond Milk Brine
Heat the almond milk, salt, brown sugar, sage, thyme, bay leaf, and mushrooms in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. You do not need to boil the liquid; just heat it enough so the salt and sugar dissolve. Stir with a whisk, then transfer to a bowl. Let cool down completely.
Roasted Fennel with Garlic
- 3 medium fennel bulbs (about 1 pound), fronds reserved and the bulb ends trimmed
- 2 large yellow Spanish onions, thinly sliced
- 20 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cup chicken stock
Preheat the oven to 400º. Slice the fennel bulbs lengthwise into ½-inch-thick slices. Combine the fennel, onions and garlic in a large baking dish and drizzle with ¼ cup of the olive oil. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and toss to combine the ingredients.
Remove the fennel slices and create a bed for the onions and garlic. Lay the fennel on top of the onions, slightly overlapping the slices. Pour the chicken stock around the fennel and drizzle the remaining ¾ cup of olive oil over the fennel. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and place it in the oven for 1 hour.
Remove the dish from the oven and discard the foil. Return the pan to the oven and cook until the fennel is browned and looks glazed, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and set aside.