Pork traditions for the new year

Simple pork chops by David Theiss.

Simple pork chops by David Theiss.

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As I’m writing this article I’m reflecting on events from years past and wonder, how long ago was that? Not coming up with an answer, I quietly murmur to myself, “time flies!” In that moment, I also came to the conclusion I’m now aging in dog years.

“Wow, it was that long ago,” hum! I’m reminded of some food traditions I’ve encountered which usually revolve around what was available at that time of year, and now has been prepared that way for centuries. And so traditions begin.

Each culture has its own food traditions, luck or prosperity are usually the reasons for such food traditions at the year’s beginning. In Norway, everyone eats rice pudding scouring the dish to find an almond which is good luck. In the Philippines, it’s customary for luck in the coming year to eat 12 round fruits on New Year’s Eve. Oranges, apples, grapes, etc.

In Italy, Lentils are consumed in large quantities for good luck. There’s also a list of foods to avoid. Chicken and lobster are a couple listed because they move and scratch backward. That leads to regret and dwelling in the past. Other fowl are avoided because luck could fly away.

One celebrated German custom of eating pork in the New Year recognizes the fact pigs root forward which symbolizes progress. Suckling pig is a New Year’s favorite in Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and Austria. Pork rich in fat, signifies wealth and prosperity.

I was comparing pork costs just a year ago, as it was extremely high because of market issues. Pork so far this year is a good buy. Pork hasn’t looked this good in years. As with produce, the cheaper the cost the better the quality.

This brings me to a wonderful pork chop recipe with a roasted root vegetable dish as a side. Simple and delicious, a meal to start your New Year out, looking forward, bringing luck and prosperity to you and your family.

Simple Pork Chops

(for a family of four)

4 pork chops at least a 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch thick. Thicker is better and preferably bone in (they do taste better).

Salt pepper to taste

Simple brine (described below)

3 cups water

3 tablespoons of kosher salt or 2.5-tablespoons table salt

Optional flavors that may be added to the brine:

3 garlic cloves

1/2-teaspoon coarse pepper

1 tablespoon brown sugar or flavor to your taste.

Use 1 cup of hot water, hot tap water to dissolve the salt.

Add the other 2 cups of water. If adding optional flavorings do so at this point.

Stir into water and salt mixture.

In flat high sided dish, place pork chops flat, pour brine over and cover with cellophane.

Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes up to 4 hours. Longer is better.

A few words on brining:

This recipe requires you to brine these pork chops for a minimum of 30 minutes to 4 hours. This brining method is simple but adds so much to the pork chop the longer you let it soak.

The definition of brining, according to the FSIS is a verb. “Brine” means to treat with or steep in. Brine is a strong solution of water and salt. A sweetener such as sugar, honey or corn syrup may be added to the solution for flavor and to improve browning.

Brining meats is a process that has been used for food preservation for centuries. Today we use less salt in our brines and combine it with other herbs and spices to infuse more intense flavors in the meat we’re preparing. Brining also alters the protein structure. It helps breakdown complex bonds, thus allowing salt and other flavors to permeate easier into the meat, making it more flavorful, moist, and tender.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Also preheat skillet on stove top.

Remove pork chops from brine pat dry with paper towels and rub olive oil on both sides then salt and pepper to taste.

Set pork chops in hot skillet and sear for two minutes on each side until a brown crust forms.

Transfer to oven dish and bake for 6 to 10 minutes until internal temperature reaches 150 degrees.

Let rest for five minutes. They will finish cooking and be tender and juicy.

Root vegetables

Root vegetables, commonly overlooked vegetables with exceptional nutrition, were often cooked in the winter.

They were harvested in the fall and stored in cellars for months afterward. These vegetables contain healthful slow digesting carbohydrates and fiber which make you feel full and help regulate blood sugar.

A short list of common root vegetables include potatoes, carrots, jicama, parsnip, rutabaga, garlic, beets, turnips, yams, radishes and onion.

Root vegetables get there dense nutrients from growing underground and absorb a great amount from the soil. Root vegetables are excellent for people who are trying to lose weight or eat healthy.

There are many benefits to these vegetables, but they simply taste good, and are easy to prepare. Try this combination of roots vegetables and enjoy with your pork chops.

1 large sweet potato peeled cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces

3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

5 cloves garlic peeled

1 large onion peeled cut into ½-inch pieces

1 turnip peeled cut into 3/4-inch pieces

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped thyme

In bowl combine ingredients along with olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss and coat all vegetables well.

In baking dish, position vegetables in a single layer, sprinkle the last herbs over the top. Bake for 40 minutes stirring occasionally and serve.

Have a happy and prosperous New Year!

David Theiss is a longtime resident of Carson City owner of Butler Gourmet meats in Carson City.


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