By Latria Graham
2019 Kemp Writer in Residence
When I heard about the Cub Report’s cooking column, I knew I wanted to spend part of my writer’s residency focusing on that. Food is such a powerful medium: it can conjure up memories, soothe a grief-stricken heart, and communicate a hundred years of history, all in one meal. Food is also an interesting way to get better acquainted with an area and culture that might be unfamiliar. I only live a couple of hours from the Smokies, but the terrain and flora are different, and I enjoyed my time “cooking through the land.”
I picked up three items from GSMA’s Foods of the Smokies section that spoke to me: sorghum molasses, cherry preserves and cornmeal from Mingus Mill. Here’s what I did with them. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I enjoyed creating it and testing it out. I know I’ve only uncovered a snippet of what is here, and I look forward to exploring more.
Brined Pork Chops with Cherry Balsamic Glaze
I treat cherries like jewels—I think most people do. They crown the top of our ice cream sundaes, and fanciful cocktails and it seems there are never enough of these tart little gems to go around. So I made them the star of this dish.
First I brined and then braised the pork chops to make sure they stayed juicy and tender, and then I put them on a bed of polenta made of cornmeal from Mingus Mill. Good polenta is all about time—giving the cornmeal the room to unfurl and come into its flavor. I use this standard New York Times recipe because there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. In order to keep the flavors balanced for this particular dish, I omitted the parmesan cheese, which was always optional. In this case, good cornmeal doesn’t need a co-star.
For the pièce de résistance: a cherry balsamic glaze, a little sweet, a little tangy, it is a wonderfully simple sauce that ties the pork chop and cornmeal together.
Since it was spring when I made this dish, I went with roasted asparagus with lemon zest and steamed green beans with garlic as my seasonal sides. In the fall I would swap these out with roasted apples and onions.
Brined Pork Chops
Dissolve the salt, molasses and pepper into the quart of warm water. Add apple cider vinegar to the mix. Insert pork chops into the brine, refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. When ready, remove pork chops, pat dry, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Add oil to an oven-safe skillet. Brown the chops on each side—just enough so that they have some color but aren’t cooked all the way through. Then put the skillet in the oven for 10 minutes, or until the meat registers 145 degrees on a meat thermometer. Remove skillet from oven, cover with foil, and let stand for 5 minutes.
Cherry Balsamic Glaze
Add shallots and butter to the same pan you cooked pork in over medium heat. Toss until lightly caramelized, 4-5 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar and wine to deglaze the pan, and simmer until syrupy and reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Swirl in preserves. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.