Taking a break from Spring Preserving to delve into Cheap Tuesday Gourmet – a weekly series on eating affordable, sharing tips and, often, how preserving can lower your dinner bill. The last few weeks have been a little obscure for some – baked eggs, turkey necks and the mighty rutabaga are a little too edgy for some (tongue firmly in cheek). We`ll head back to a vegetarian option next week (I am so excited for the plans I can barely wait) and this week we`re heading back to the Lord of the Flies – yes, the mighty pig.
If you`re vegetarian you may still be interested in the first section (in fact the majority of this article has very little to do with cooking meat and is useful to those who bake or brine anything).
This week was fairly simple. We hit the St Lawrence Market late in the afternoon and found a pork special – buy 6 butterfly (boneless) chops and pay $2.99 a pound (as opposed to $3.99). 6 1-inch chops were just over $12.
The first step to elevate the chops is to brine them. We sat them in a 3% mixture of salt to water for 24 hours in the fridge. Here is one of the coolest things »I learned this year (and one of the most compelling arguments I can make to support cooking with the metric system):
- Volume of water (in millimeters) is equal to weight in grams…
What does this mean for the every day cook? It means that calculating ratios is easy (i.e. 30 grams of salt in 1000 millilitres of water is exactly 3%).
If you`re new to metric or mathematically impaired, take great comfort that I had a speech impediment for many years and achieved 17% in grade 12 math without skipping a class. Be patient with this post and it will show you love…I promise 🙂
Before we get to math, let`s talk for a moment about why measuring salt by weight is a big deal to bakers and others instead of relying on it`s volume as many recipes call for.
Consider how much room a standard pack with 500 sheets of paper consumes. Imagine crumpling each individual piece into a ball and think about how much more room the crumbled paper would take. The larger the balls, the bigger the space – even though it`s still just 500 pieces of paper.
Salt is the same as the balls of paper. The smaller the grains of salt, the more sodium that fits into tablespoon. To demonstrate this from an absurd exaggeration, imagine that we had access to salt grains that were .75 tablespoons each. Only one would fit in the tablespoon before the others fell to the side. If we had salt with smaller grains we could fill a separate tablespoon full to the brim – thus it would contain more salt than the first one.
This is why weight is an important factor in measuring baking ingredients – especially those that are not liquid.
Now onto the math and some simple metric:
- Everything works in base-10. This means that we count by 10`s for everything. 10 millimeters make a centimeter, 10 centimeters(100 millimeters) make a decimetre, 10 decimetres make a meter (100 centimeters), 10o0 meters make a kilometer. Note that cent (as in `century`) represents 100 and kilo is a 1000.
- Volume (of cooking proportions) is often measured in millilitres and liters. 1000 millilitres is a liter. 250 millilitres is roughly a cup, 500 millilitres is half a liter and so forth.
- Weight is in grams. We typically deal in grams and kilograms (1000 grams) – 500 grams is the same as half a kilogram and we may mention either.
I should mention that most of our stores still sell items in your choice of metric or imperial even though we officially changed to metric almost 40 years ago.
So here`s the clever thing: 1 liter of water (1000 millilitres) weighs 1 kilogram (1000 grams). This means that a perfect 3% brine can be made by mixing 1 liter of water with 30 grams of any size salt you can buy.
If you`ve read any amount of baking books, this is the reason many push you towards weighing things and often in metric. I have a $30 scale that will convert between Metric and Imperial and wouldn`t be too heartbroken if I couldn`t get mix mixture absolutely perfect; every recipe goes trough some form of personal interpretation after all.
We brined the pork for just over 24 hours. We patted them all dry and placed 2 in the freezer for another day. We cooked four of them – 2 for dinner, two for later in the week.
A quick sear in a frying pan before being put in an oven-safe covered pot (use foil if you don`t have a cover) and place the works in the over at 325 degrees farenheit (yes we cook in Imperial :)) for 25-30 minutes.
We paired this with homemade apple sauce ($0.40 per plate), pressure-canned beans ($0.50) and sliced organic potatoes cooked with a touch of milk for moisture ($1.50). This is our most expensive dinner so far at a grand total of about $4.75 per plate. Most of the meals have been coming under $2 and replacing the chops with pork tenderloin (still bringing and searing) would be a way to lower this price considerably while still maintaining the spirit of the dish.
Any converts to trying out metric? If it still sounds confusing, let me know and I`ll try again – it`s ultimately very simple.
Cheap Tuesday Gourmet originated in response to scenes in Food Inc.; there are more than a dozen articles and solutions for better eating at afforable prices there.