Sweet Tea-brined Pork Chops & Peach-Mint Chutney

There were a few big things I had to get used to when I moved to North Carolina from my childhood home in upstate New York. The weather, of course, was wildly different—we have at least eight months of warmth and sunshine each year, compared to seven months of snow and slush and gray that were my normal. People in the South tend to be friendlier (there are exceptions, naturally) and there is a sense of hospitality that I had not experienced before I moved here. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the place.

Folks ‘round here invite you to drop by anytime, “sit a spell” and enjoy some tea. The first time someone welcomed me this way, I thought it odd that they would serve tea on a hot August afternoon. But that’s because, where I grew up, tea was a beverage served hot, with the paper tab of a teabag draped over the edge of a dainty cup, and a lemon wedge or tiny cup of milk served on the side.

Not so in the South, where “tea” is sweetened with sugar (white or brown, depending on the whims of the hostess), freshly brewed and poured over ice in a tall glass, best enjoyed on the front porch while listening to the hum of cicadas (which we have every summer in North Carolina). Lemon is optional, gossip is welcomed. Sweet tea is, as Dolly Parton’s character declared in Steel Magnolias, “the house wine of the South.”

Though my Yankee-born taste buds do not appreciate the level of sweetness in southern sweet tea, I respect its place in the culture and I enjoy giving it a starring role in my kitchen. The polyphenols in tea are said to provide a wide range of health benefits, and beyond that, I knew that black pekoe tea would be acidic enough to help tenderize the beautiful pork chops I picked up at our local butcher shop. The flavor of these chops after brining and grilling was, how shall I say? Freaking awesome, that’s what. They were tender and juicy, flavorful with a subtle sweetness.

Lord, yes, this sweet tea brine was delicious!

Any recipe involving a brine requires some advance prep, so if you decide to make these, start in the morning. One of the critical rules of brining is to never pour a warm brine over raw meat. I brewed the tea late that morning, following a typical “southern” ratio of tea-to-water and sugar, then I flavored it up with kosher salt (necessary for any brine), white peppercorns and a very generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice. After a three-hour cooldown, I poured the brine over my chops and refrigerated them for several hours before grilling.


Chops this flavorful needed a strong accompaniment, and I paired them with a sweet-meets-savory chutney, giving two more southern specialties—peaches and Vidalia onions—supporting roles on our plates. As with any chutney, I sauteed the onions first with a handful of sweet red bell pepper, then I added peaches (frozen was my best option this time of year), a bit of brown sugar and fresh lemon juice, a tiny bit of zippy horseradish and a few leaves of fresh mint at the end to brighten it all up.


My husband is the grill master at our house, and he did his usual outdoor magic with these sweet tea-brined pork chops. After searing both sides on high heat, he let them hang out at a lower temperature for about 8 minutes on each side, until the meat was beautifully browned, and the chops were done to medium (150° internally). A quick rest on the counter while I plated up some sauteed spinach and the peach-mint chutney, and this was one tasty dinner.  


Sweet Tea-brined Pork Chops

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: average
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Well, bless my heart! I’ve fancied up a pitcher of southern sweet tea and made it a brine for the most tender, flavorful pork chops our grill has ever seen! This recipe requires some down time, for cooling the sweet tea brine, as well as brining the pork chops before grilling, so plan accordingly.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 family size black pekoe tea bag, or 3 regular tea bags
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. cracked white peppercorns
  • Juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • 2 thick, bone-in pork loin chops, weighing almost a pound total

Directions

  1. Boil water and pour it over the tea bag to brew the tea. Add brown sugar and kosher salt, stirring until both have fully dissolved. Add white peppercorns and lemon juice. Allow the brine to cool at room temperature for several minutes, then transfer the brine to the refrigerator for about three hours to chill.
  2. Pat the pork chops with paper towels to remove any residue from the butcher wrap. Place chops in a dish large enough to hold the full amount of brine. Pour chilled brine over the chops and refrigerate for 3 hours before grilling. If needed, weigh the chops down with a plate to keep them fully immersed in the brine.
  3. Remove chops from the refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling. Preheat grill to 500 F for searing the chops.
  4. Place chops on grill over high heat, just long enough to sear each side. This should only take about one minute, but trust your instincts on your own grill. Once seared, reduce the heat to medium (about 350 F) and cook on each side for about 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of your chops. Optimal internal temperature is 145-150 F, and the chops will continue to cook a bit after you remove them from the heat.
  5. Rest the chops on a plate for about 3 minutes, then plate and serve with peach-mint chutney.

Peach-Mint Chutney

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: average
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This quick and easy condiment is a perfect complement to my “Sweet Tea-brined Pork Chops,” and it would also be delicious with fish or chicken. You can make this chutney ahead and refrigerate until ready to serve. It can either be warmed or served cold or room temperature.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup diced Vidalia onion
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen peaches, cut into cubes
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. prepared horseradish
  • Juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • Kosher salt and ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp. fresh mint leaves, cut into chiffonade or chopped

Directions

  1. Heat canola oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When it shimmers, add onions and peppers and a pinch of salt. Saute until slightly softened, about five minutes.
  2. Add peaches, brown sugar and horseradish, tossing to combine. Season with a slight pinch of salt and white pepper. When the mixture is hot throughout, squeeze in lemon juice and simmer until it reduces and thickens slightly.
  3. Remove from heat and fold in chopped mint leaves.


Y’all come back, and see what I did with the rest of those peaches! 😉


Fuzzy Navel Sorbet

It was July, 1986. My wardrobe included stirrup pants, big blouses and my favorite pin-striped, high-waisted skinny jeans. The ones with the pleats. My hair was permed and teased out to here, and all the girls were lusting after Tom Cruise in Top Gun. I was restless in my not-so-exciting hometown, and I spent entirely too many weekend nights on the dance floor at a bar called the Rusty Nail, drinking the most sticky-sweet drink that was all the rage that year.

When we were not enjoying our Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers, the “fuzzy navel,” made with orange juice and DeKuyper Peachtree schnapps, was the “cocktail” of choice for me and so many of my friends, whether we were out on the town (which meant we were in the next town over), hanging at home (because our town didn’t have much going on) or gathering for a bridal shower (because getting hitched is what several of my friends were doing that year). Man, we were so cool.

Why did we ever think it was cool to smoke??
But I wish I still had that striped top!

It was an odd time for me, as I turned 21 and I would finally be cleared to order a drink in public. Again. There was a great deal of confusion for my friends and me, as the state of New York had raised the legal drinking age not once, but twice, in a short period of time. First, they raised it from 18 to 19, after I had been legally imbibing for about eight months. Then, when I was 20 and enjoying my fuzzy navels, they upped it to the national standard age of 21. In the next town over, this did not present as much of a problem, because I had a fake ID. Yes, it was bad, but shame on the state for having a no-photo ID that was made of plain old paper. I had used a safety pin to scratch off the bottom part of the 7 and a #2 pencil to reshape it into a 2, giving myself a Feb. 25 birthday! Seriously, it was ridiculous that the powers in Albany did not find a way to “grandfather” in the people who were already considered “of age.”

In my hometown though, everyone knew I was a July baby, so I had to rely on the bottles of DeKuyper Peachtree schnapps I had already purchased (when I was younger, yet “old enough”), and that was what carried me through the final stretch of waiting. Let’s just say that I bought a lot of orange juice during those weird alcohol retrograde months.

A few weeks ago, for nostalgia’s sake, I brought home a bottle of Peachtree schnapps when I spotted it in our local ABC store (that’s what we call our state-run liquor stores in North Carolina), and Lord have mercy, I wish I could have seen my own face when I took a sip! It has a fake fruit flavor and a slight medicinal edge, definitely not what I remembered as being “totally awesome.”

Yes, my taste has changed a great deal (thankfully), but I could not resist finding a fun way to pay homage to the drink of my youth, and this easy sorbet is the result of my effort. I am presenting it during National Ice Cream Month, as an alternative frozen treat for anyone who can’t eat ice cream, and as a nod to my younger self on her 21st birthday. The sorbet is surprisingly refreshing on its own, and I found that it also makes a fun brunch cocktail when topped with prosecco!

Please help me think of a good name for this fuzzy navel brunch cocktail. Mimosa and Bellini are already taken. 🙂

There is a hefty amount of peach schnapps in this sorbet, but fear not—the stuff is only 40-proof, so it isn’t going to wreck you. I pureed a handful of fresh summer peaches to add some freshness and actual peach flavor. The orange juice was a frozen concentrate (which is not as commonly available as in 1986), and I finished the mixture with a light simple syrup of sugar and water.


Ingredients

4 medium peaches, peeled and pitted

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

2 cups water, divided

1/2 cup cane sugar

2 Tbsp. light corn syrup* (see notes)

1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate

1/3 cup DeKuyper Peachtree schnapps

2 Tbsp. vodka, optional for extra kick


*Notes

Corn syrup is not crucial, but I used it to help keep the sugar from forming unpleasant crystals in the frozen sorbet.


Instructions

  1. Cut up the peaches into chunks and transfer them to a regular or bullet blender. Squeeze in the lemon juice and toss lightly to prevent discoloration of the peaches.
  2. Combine 1 cup of the water and all of the sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a low boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in corn syrup. Remove from heat and allow the syrup to cool.
  3. Add the orange juice concentrate to the bullet blender, along with the peaches and about 1/2 cup of the simple syrup. Pulse a few times, then blend continuously until the mixture is smooth and uniform.
  4. Strain the puree through a mesh strainer to remove any solids, including the stringy fibers that surround the peach pits.
  5. Combine the pureed mixture, the remaining simple syrup, remaining water and the Peachtree schnapps in a large bowl or pitcher. Stir to blend. Cover with plastic wrap and chill several hours or overnight.
  6. Freeze the fuzzy navel mixture in an ice cream machine for about 25 minutes, until it’s frozen and slushy. Transfer to an insulated container and freeze overnight.

This sorbet can be served as is, or spoon a couple of tablespoons into a flute glass and top with prosecco. It’s a fun little brunch drink, almost as if a mimosa and a Bellini had a baby.


And as for you, young lady—well, you have a lot to learn. But you are awesome just as you are, even with your eyes closed. Don’t ever let anyone tell you different. ❤



Southern Peach Shortcake with Sweet Tea Syrup

What could be more southern than summer sweet peaches and cream on tender, salty butter biscuits? How about all that, plus a sweet tea syrup? Oh, yeah.

This idea came to me after my first taste of an Arnold Palmer, a non-alcohol summer beverage made of equal parts sweet tea and freshly squeezed lemonade. The drink is attributed to, and named for, one of the greatest American pro golfers of our time. Apparently, after a hot afternoon on the links, it was his go-to beverage, and I can understand why. I still have enough Yankee in me (despite 30+ years living in the South), that sweet tea on its own is decidedly not my drink of choice. But lightly sweetened and combined with tart lemonade, it’s light, refreshing, and I cannot get enough of it. When a flavor combination takes hold of me this way, I can’t help myself from thinking, “what else can I do with this?’”

I had four plump, juicy peaches on the counter—not enough for a cobbler, which would be too much for the two of us anyway.

So here we are. I boiled down the Arnold Palmer blend to concentrate the flavors of the tea and lemonade. My tea was light on sugar to begin with, so I added a couple of teaspoons when the syrup reached the reduction level I wanted. The syrup underscores the sweetness of ripe, juicy southern peaches, which are still undeniably the star. Go ahead and use frozen or canned biscuits if that’s easiest or knock it out of the park with some homemade fluffy biscuits if you’re a rock star (and how about sharing that recipe with me because biscuits are not my forte).

This recipe made exactly enough for 3 generous servings, dessert that night and one leftover for hubby’s lunch.

Of course, it’s topped with freshly whipped cream!

Ingredients

4 ripe freestone peaches, peeled* (see notes for peeling tip)

Juice of 1/2 small lemon

3 tsp. cane sugar

3 cups Arnold Palmer* tea-lemonade beverage (see notes for suggestions)

1 Tbsp. corn starch

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

3 fresh buttery biscuits (I cheated and used purchased biscuits)

Sweetened whipped cream for topping


*Notes

Freestone peaches differ from “cling” peaches in that the soft fruit flesh will release more easily from the pit. The peaches at your market are likely to be freestone unless otherwise labeled.

Here’s a tip for peeling peaches without subjecting them to boiling water or crushing them: Use a sharp paring knife at a tight angle to the skin of the peaches and “scrape” against the peel, but not in a way that slices or cuts it. The best way I can describe this process is to pretend you are giving the peach a close shave. This gentle, all-over pressure will cause the skin to loosen from the soft flesh of the fruit. Then, you can slip the point of your knife under a small section of the skin and peel it right off.


For the Arnold Palmer beverage (named for the champion golfer who loved the drink), I mixed equal parts of lightly sweetened tea and Trader Joe’s freshly squeezed lemonade. Simply Lemonade brand would also be good, and homemade would be best of all. Steer clear of instant lemonade drinks such as Country Time. You’ll appreciate the flavors of real lemonade. This blend is so refreshing and summery, I could honestly drink it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

If you’re not already making your own sweet tea at home, here’s the quick rundown for success. First, get some Luzianne blended tea—this is the real-deal “southern” tea, specifically blended for iced tea (though I can’t identify what makes it so). Seriously, if you aren’t in the South or cannot find Luzianne, there’s nothing wrong with Lipton or another brand, but for this recipe, stick with black tea rather than herbal. If you have the jumbo tea bags, you’ll only need two of them, or six regular sized tea bags.

Southerners swear by this stuff.

May I suggest also, if you expect you’ll be enjoying this beverage in the evening, consider getting the decaf version of the tea bags. On my first experience with the Arnold Palmer drink, I kept filling my glass without a thought about the caffeine (the stuff is that delicious). It was a decision I regretted the entire next day, after having only slept about three hours. I think I’d rather have a hangover than an all-night caffeine buzz. On the plus side, it was a very productive day. 🙂

Bring water to a boil in a tea kettle or pan and pour 6 cups over two family-size tea bags in a heat-safe pitcher. Allow the tea to steep 5 minutes, then remove and discard the tea bags. Add about 1/2 cup pure cane sugar (give or take, depending on your taste) and stir until dissolved.

Allow it to cool a few minutes, then add 2 cups of fresh ice cubes and stir until melted. Refrigerate the tea until you’re ready to enjoy it or, in this case, blend it with equal amount of fresh lemonade.


Instructions


  1. Toss peaches in lemon to prevent browning
  2. Sprinkle sugar over peaches and macerate several hours or overnight in the fridge.
  3. Simmer Arnold Palmer blend down to about 3/4 cup volume.
  4. Taste syrup; if too tart (lemony), add 1 tsp. sugar at a time to taste
  5. Combine 1 Tbsp. cornstarch with 1 Tbsp. cold water. Bring sauce to gentle boil and slowly stream in the slurry to slightly thicken the syrup. You may not use it all. Stir in butter. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate if you aren’t using it right away.
  6. Split a biscuit, drizzle syrup on the bottom half, then layer on peaches and biscuit top. Drizzle generously with sweet tea syrup and top with whipped cream.
The first bite of a sweet summer dessert is the best, am I right?

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