Some of my earliest memories are centered around meat and potatoes. Every Sunday my family would pile into the car and head over to my grandmother’s house for dinner. Without fail she’d always serve a roast alongside a mountain of mashed potatoes. My sister was a roast beef kind of girl, but I was in it for the roast pork. I loved that roast pork not because it was brined or smoked to rosy pink perfection. My grandmother wasn’t that kind of cook. She grew up on a farm, fussing was not in her DNA. No, what I loved about her roast pork was the applesauce that accompanied it. It was one of the first times fruit and meat crossed paths on my dinner plate and it was certainly not the last. Today’s Apricot Stuffed Pork Chops are just another by-product of a food obsession hatched in my formative years.
Salty-sweet is, in my humble opinion, the greatest flavor combination of all time. Sure, it’s not as sophisticated as bitter meets sweet, nor as giddy-inducing as sweet on sweet. But salty-sweet satisfies two of our most basic human drives: our need for sugar and our need for salt. I don’t care how refined your palette is, your knees are sure to buckle in the face of salted caramel, and chocolate and peanut butter.
It’s no secret that I am an avid salty-sweet fan. I use honey in savory recipes as much as I use it in desserts. And I truly do believe this all stems from those first bites of roast pork slathered with applesauce. That contrast of umami-rich, salt-crusted pork with the sweet, slightly tart applesauce lives in my sense memory forever linked to the coziness of childhood. In other words, I will never not like roast pork and applesauce…or double negatives.
But, let’s be fair, roast pork and apple sauce is far from innovative. Sure, it’s a classic but it’s not a particularly tricky classic. I thought of futzing around with my grandmother’s roast pork recipe and toyed with the notion of growing up her applesauce with a hefty dose of bourbon, but it didn’t feel right. I am the (self-professed) queen of culinary experimentation but even I have recipes I won’t touch. Her roast pork and simple applesauce is hallowed ground for me.
So, without hope of innovation or gourmetization (that is now a word, you can thank me later) I decided to leave the roast pork recipe untouched in my moleskin notebook and explore other fruit and meat pairings. And since we’re in the middle of summer and chops were made for grilling, my mind inevitably landed on pork chops. I was later seduced by velvet-skinned apricots in the produce isle and these Apricot Stuffed Pork Chops were born.
Now, because I decided not to pay homage to my grandmother’s recipes, I was wide open to get as fussy as I damn well pleased. And to me, fussiness implies making a brine. I know it may sound like bragging, but the apple cider brine included in this recipe is the best brine I’ve ever made. Honestly, if you’re looking to cut a corner, the brine is not the place to do it. I would advise you to skip the stuffing before you skip the brine. Of course, I don’t think you should skip anything but who am I to tell you how to live your life?
The Wild Rice Salad that accompanies these Apricot Stuffed Pork Chops is a fun little riff on the decidedly over-played beet, walnut, and goat cheese salad. Now, I know that this salad combo is disappearing from restaurant menus because it was absolutely everywhere for a hot second and people are tired. BUT I still love it. It just works for me and, honestly, I am not a trendy human being. I’m a demanding human being and I demand that my beets be paired with goat cheese and nuts. I will, however, make a few concessions. My bf does not like walnuts, so pecans were subbed in. And you know what? I liked the pecans so much more, go figure.
You’ll notice I didn’t go the mixed greens or arugula route for the salad. Instead, I deployed wild rice. Now, why would I go and do a thing like that? Well, I really like carbs and I refuse to turn my back on them. But I am, however, making more of an effort to eat complex carbs because, you know, health. So, wild rice as a salad base is currently the answer. But don’t worry, there will still be simple carbs on this blog – I’m not made of stone.
The last thing I should mention is the stuffing, which is mascarpone-based, will drip. So, if you fear for your grill or cookware plan accordingly. We grilled our pork chops on our Webber kettle grill and the cheese mostly just dripped on our charcoal, which we were totes fine with. But if you want to err on the side of caution, put a drip pan down and clean your grill while it’s still warm that way the cheese won’t set up and annoy the shit out of you.
So, with these final disclaimers out of the way, I’m ready to unleash y’all on these Apricot Stuffed Pork Chops. The take a little forethought but they come together super quick when you’re ready to grill. Go get ‘em!
Apricot Stuffed Pork Chops with Wild Rice Salad
- 4 pork rib chops
- 1 batch Apple Cider Brine see below
- 1 batch Roasted Beet & Wild Rice Salad see below
- 1 batch Apricot Mascarpone Stuffing see below
Apple Cider Brine
- 1 473 ml, 16 fl oz can alcoholic cider
- 1/4 cup salt
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 5-6 sprigs fresh sage
- 4 star anises pods
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Roasted Beet Wild Rice Salad
- 1 red beet
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt divided
- 2 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 1 cup wild rice
- 3 cups water
- 2 Persian cucumbers sliced
- 1/2 cup raw pecans halves
- 70 g 2.5 oz goat cheese, crumbled
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard heaping
Apricot Mascarpone Stuffing
- 2 apricots diced fine
- 1 cup mascarpone cheese
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh sage finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
For the Brine
- Pour the cider into a small saucepan. Add the sugars and salt as well as the spices and aromatics. Place the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Stir until the sugar and salt dissolves completely, then remove from the heat and let cool for 2 hours.
- Place the pork chops in either a resealable bag or a deep pan. Pour the cooled brine over the pork chops and either seal the bag or, if using a pan, apply a weight to the chops to ensure they remain fully immersed in the brine. Let sit in the fridge for 24 hours.
For the Salad
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Wash the beet and pierce it on all sides with a fork. Place the beet in the center of a piece of tin foil and drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon of the olive oil. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and wrap the tin foil around the beet so it is fully encased.
- Place the beet on a baking sheet to catch any drips and place in the oven. Roast for 40 minutes or until tender. Remove the beet from the oven and let cool. When cool enough to handle, peel and cut into cubes. Transfer the beet to the fridge to cool completely.
- Pour the wild rice, water, and 3/4 teaspoon of the salt into a medium saucepan. Place the pan over high heat and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and reduce to a low simmer. Let cook for 40 minutes or until the grains of rice split. There may be some residual moisture in the pot, so drain the rice using a fine mesh strainer. Fluff the rice and set aside to cool completely.
- When everything is cool, place the rice, roasted beet, cucumber, pecans and goat cheese in a large bowl. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk the remaining olive oil, the remaining salt, the balsamic vinegar, garlic and mustard together. Pour the mixture over the salad and toss to coat.
- Chill the salad until ready to serve.
For the Stuffing
- Place all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Transfer the stuffing to a large piping bag with a wide tip and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Remove the pork chops from their brine. Rinse the chops briefly and pat dry.
- Cut a 3 1/2 inch slit in the meaty side of each pork chop. Carefully cut the hole deeper using the tip of a very sharp knife. The cavity should be roughly 3-inches deep.
- Pipe the filling into each pork chop and close with 2-3 toothpicks. Season both sides of the pork chops with a little salt and pepper.
- Place the chops on a very hot grill or griddle pan and cook for roughly 5-6 minutes a side. A hint of pink at the thickest part of the chop is what you're looking for. Just a hint. Tent the chops in foil and let rest for 10 minutes.
- Unwrap the pork chops and serve alongside a hefty serving of the Roasted Beet Wild Rice Salad.