When you think of buttermilk in cooking, biscuits or fried chicken may be the first things that come to mind, but there are many ways to put this dairy product to use in the kitchen. When used in baking, the acid in buttermilk reacts with baking powder to help bread rise and give crusts a crackle. When used as a brine, buttermilk tenderizes protein. While it may seem that the acid in buttermilk does the tenderizing, it is not so. Calcium and bacteria in buttermilk trigger certain enzymes in meat that degrades the muscle fibers, allowing more moisture to enter the cells. Kosher salt has a similar effect, so when you brine meat, such as pork chops, in buttermilk and kosher salt, you get the tenderization benefits of former and the increased moisture retention of the latter.
Pour equal parts buttermilk and distilled water in a saucepan. Pork chops have a relatively mild flavor, and anything more than a 50-50 mixture of buttermilk and water usually overpowers them. You need to cover the pork with 1 or 2 inches of brine, so use 4 cups of water and 4 cups of buttermilk for every three or four pork chops.
Pour 1/2 cup of fine or medium-ground kosher salt in a saucepan for every 16 cups, or 1 gallon, of buttermilk and water.
Add any spices, fresh herbs or other flavoring and aromatic ingredients to the saucepan. Pork chops take on just about any flavor you throw at them, so don’t hesitate to get creative, just follow one guideline: select spices and aromatics that tie the pork to something else in the meal. For example, if you’re drinking a crisp chardonnay with the meal, which goes great with pork anyway, add some citrus zest or citrus juice to the brine. If you’re serving a brown gravy with the chops, add some whole peppercorns and woodsy spices to the brine, such as sage leaves and turmeric.
Attach a candy thermometer to the sauce pan. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can use a probe thermometer. Set the saucepan on the stove over medium-high heat.
Heat the brine to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring with a whisk to dissolve the salt. When the temperature reaches 180 F, turn the heat off or, if using an electric stove, remove the saucepan from the heat.
Stir the brine for a minute or two as it cools to room temperature. Scalding the milk helps mobilize the oils in the herbs and aromatic ingredients, infusing the brine, and dissolves the flaky kosher salt.
Chill the brine in the refrigerator until it reaches the same temperature of the refrigerator. Place the pork chops flat in a nonreactive container, such as a plastic food storage container, a stainless steel pan or, if brining only one or two pork chops, a large, sealable food storage bag.
Stir the chilled brine using a spoon until the spices and aromatic ingredients are suspended in it. Pour the brine over the pork chops until covered 1 or 2 inches. Place a couple of clean plates or mugs on the pork to keep them submerged, if necessary. If brining in a food storage bag, remove the excess air from it and seal.
Cover the container of pork with food film or an airtight lid. Place the pork in the refrigerator for about two to three hours. Turn the pork chops over in the brine after one hour and return them to the refrigerator.
Rinse the pork chops with cool running water when finished brining and pat them dry with paper towels. Store the pork in the refrigerator until ready to cook. Discard the brine.