Since You Asked: Brine will help pork retain moisture

My husband and I purchased portions of a pig that some friends raised on kitchen scraps. This family must have a very wholesome diet because I've never seen such lean pork. I've already overcooked some of the chops. What do you suggest for keeping this meat moist and tender?

— Barbara J., via email

It isn't only pork from small farms that can lack fat, particularly if from newer hog breeds. Large-scale pork producers' breeding and feeding techniques are intended to yield lean meat that, consequently, can be much drier.

One safeguard is to brine pork before cooking. When soaked in a solution of water, salt and sometimes sugar, meat will absorb some moisture and retain it during cooking.

To brine four pork chops, combine 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup kosher salt and 6 cups water in a zip-close, gallon-sized, plastic bag. Add the chops and refrigerate for one to four hours. Pat them dry and season with spices before cooking. (Bone-in center or rib chops that are 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches thick work best.)

Cook the chops over medium-high heat until nicely browned on both sides, taking care not to overcook. Once the chops register 140 to 145 F on an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into the thickest part, remove them from the pan. Tent with foil about 10 minutes before serving. The internal temperature will rise a few degrees, yielding perfectly moist pork.

Or skip the brine and braise pork chops in liquid at a low temperature for an extended period until tender enough to cut with a fork. With this technique, brining isn't recommended because the pan sauce or gravy would be too salty. With braising, you want to create a delicious sauce to soak up with mashed potatoes or crusty bread.

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