Recipe by Danny Bannister, executive chef, Red Marlin.
I’ve been a chef my whole life. It’s always been inside me. My mom hates it, but I attribute it to her because she’s not that good of a cook. I was always trying to make my dinner better. My dad died in a car accident when I was really young, and my mom had to go back to work. Starting when I was about eight, I came home from school alone and I made anything I could for snacks and dinner. I made pasta, using pasta sauce out of different cans and I added in seasonings. I made mac and cheese with different cheeses, and I tried to fancy it up. The first job I ever had cooking, I was 18 and still in high school and my brother and I bought a small restaurant in Ventura — Numero Uno Pizza and Pasta. I took my first four periods of high school and then I got off to run the business. We took it over as a failing restaurant and got it cheap, but our lack of knowledge was the ultimate downfall. A Pizza Hut and Domino’s came in down the street. Our pizza was a lot better, but because it was a little more expensive, people went to the chains instead of us.
My mom always knew I would be a chef, but I never really saw it. I never thought I would make anything of myself or get ahead in the world. So I went to college to study anthropology and international studies. I also started working at the Bacara Resort and Spa in Santa Barbara as a pantry cook and fell in love the second I walked into that place. I was in awe, seeing the chefs there with their perfectly pressed shirts and immaculate kitchens. I dropped out of college after a few months and went to the French Culinary Institute in New York City.
I’m only 29 and still developing my food philosophy. It’s constantly changing. I just like fresh, simple food that comes from the heart. It doesn’t have to be something that has a thousand ingredients and 20 steps and takes five days to make. It could be as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich. Another thing I’m big on is brining pork. If you don’t brine pork, it gets so dry and tough. It’s a waste. For the holidays, I like to brine with juniper berries or molasses. I serve it with roasted potatoes with rendered bacon and caramelized onions. Acorn squash and roasted apples go well, too. There’s nothing like pork chops and applesauce.
1 gallon of warm water
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 white onion, sliced
1 carrot, medium dice
1 stalk celery, medium dice
1/3 cup juniper berries, ground in a clean coffee grinder or spice grinder (available at most grocery stores in the spice section or at Whole Foods)
5 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 T ground allspice
2 T ground coriander
3 bay leaves
4–5 ten-ounce pork chops
Olive oil for cooking (about 2 T)
HOW TO DO IT
In a large bowl, mix together the water, salt, and sugar until completely dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients from the onion to the bay leaves. Add the pork chops to the brine and make sure pork chops are completely submerged. Let the pork sit in the brine mixture for 10–20 hours in fridge. About an hour before cooking, remove the pork chops from the brine, rinse them under cold water to make sure there is no excess salt or spice, and then season with pepper but no more salt.
Grill the pork chops on a BBQ or pan sear. If pan searing, heat the oven to 350° and heat a large oven-proof skillet over a high heat. Add enough oil to form a thin layer on the pan and heat until shimmering. Lay the chops in the pan and sear until golden on one side (about three minutes). If pan is too crowded, sear the chops in batches, setting the first ones aside on a platter while searing the second batch. Sear the fatty side of each chop by holding the chop sideways with tongs, about one minute per chop. Turn the chops over and immediately transfer the pan to the oven. Cook the chops until an instant-read thermometer registers 140° (about ten minutes).