MEET THE SOUS CHEF
JUSTIN UCHTMAN, SOUS CHEF, SPQR
Justin Uchtman, sous chef at SPQR in San Francisco, moved to the city three years ago and plans to never leave. The Ohio transplant's reason: San Francisco's proximity to wine country and the access to great ingredients. "I think everything is better out here," says the young chef. "It would take a lot to make me leave."
Uchtman lives a few blocks from the restaurant, and whenever he has the night off, he cooks at home. Specialties include his grandmother's recipes for pound cake and meatloaf, as well as simply prepared meats, like these brined pork chops.
TRACK THIS CHEF
DAY IN THE LIFE
Uchtman's family menagerie includes a dogs and two cats; his girlfriend also has a dog. Like the dogs, his cats also enjoy taking strolls around the block, and Uchtman describes their family outings as "quite an ordeal." Uchtman also keeps a small garden behind their house, where he grows strawberries, tomatoes, edible flowers and ice plant for the restaurant.
TIPS & TECHNIQUES
In Praise of Brine
If you think that brining meat is a fussy, unnecessary step, Uchtman urges you to try the simple technique: "It adds flavor, helps keep the meat juicy and requires very little effort." He brines his bone-in pork chops overnight in a plastic storage bag.
A cast-iron pan is Uchtman's go-to piece of equipment for cooking pork chops or steak. "It holds the heat really well, allowing you to get a nice sear on the meat. That caramelization translates to great flavor."
Whole black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon
Brown mustard seeds, 1 tablespoon
Whole coriander seeds, 1 tablespoon
Water, 1 cup
Granulated sugar, 1 cup
Kosher salt, 1 tablespoon
Rosemary sprigs, 2
Bone-in pork chops, 2 (8 to 10 ounces each)
Canola or grapeseed oil, 1 tablespoon
Medium spaghetti squash, 1 (halved lengthwise and seeded)
Kosher salt, 2 teaspoons
Freshly ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon
Unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons (1 tablespoon melted)
Rosemary sprigs, 4
Gallon-sized resealable plastic bag
1. Brine the pork chops: In a small skillet set over medium heat, add the:
- Whole black peppercorns
- Brown mustard seeds
- Whole coriander seeds
Toast the seeds until fragrant and the coriander is lightly golden, shaking the pan often, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the spices out onto a large plate to cool. Remove 1 tablespoon of the mixture and use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to pulverize until finely ground.
2. To a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, add:
- ½ cup water
- Granulated sugar
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
Bring the mixture to a boil, using the wooden spoon to stir occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. To the saucepan, add the toasted whole spices and the:
- Rosemary sprigs
- Remaining ½ cup water
Set aside to cool, about 1 hour. To a gallon-size resealable plastic bag, add the cooled brine and the
- Pork chops
Seal the bag and refrigerate the pork chops for 8 hours or overnight.
3. Make the squash: Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large baking dish, add skin side down the:
- Spaghetti squash halves
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Use a pastry brush to lightly coat each squash half with the:
- Melted unsalted butter
To each half, add:
- 2 rosemary sprigs
Carefully turn the spaghetti squash halves over and cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the baking dish from the oven and use a fork to check the squash for tenderness--it should effortlessly slide in and out of the thickest part of the squash. If it's not tender, re-cover the baking dish with foil and continue to roast, checking the squash every 7 to 10 minutes to gauge its doneness.
Remove the squash from the oven and uncover. Once cool enough to handle, remove and discard the rosemary and use a fork to scrape the flesh out from the skin--it will break apart into spaghetti-like strands.
4. Remove the pork chops from the brine, rinse under cold water, and use paper towels to pat both sides of the chops dry. Season both sides of each pork chop with the reserved ground spice mixture and:
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
To a medium skillet set over high heat, add the:
- Canola oil
Once the pan starts to smoke, after about 2 minutes, reduce the heat to medium and add the pork chops, searing until golden-brown on one side, 8 to 10 minutes. Use tongs to turn the chops over and cook on the other side until browned and the chops are cooked to your preferred degree of doneness, 8 to 10 minutes longer for medium (145° on an instant-read thermometer). Use tongs to transfer the chops to a large plate and set aside to rest for 5 minutes.
While the chops rest, finish the squash: In a medium or large skillet set over medium-high heat, add the remaining:
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Once the butter is melted, add the squash, stir once, reduce the heat to medium, and cook without stirring until the squash is lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed.
Divide the squash between 2 plates. Lean a pork chop on the squash and serve.