Category Archives: brine

The Sweet Science of Artichokes

i wanted a picture of artichokes boxing, but this'll have to do. image from 

At least you’ll never be a vegetable—even artichokes have hearts. –Amelie

I suspect that one of the reasons artichokes show up in appetizers so often, especially in the sugar-loving U.S., is that they make everything you eat or drink for a little while afterwards, including water, taste slightly sweet. It’s not quite the simple straightforward sweetness of sucrose, which I’m not sure would be an especially desirable effect no matter how much you like sweet things. Instead, it’s more of a sweet-savory enhancement, perhaps even a little bit umami.I cropped the chart description for length, but will happily send it to anyone who's really interested

According to a 1972 article in Science, the first written account of artichokes’ capacity for taste perversion followed a dinner for biologists at the 1934 AAAS conference. The salad course consisted of globe artichokes, and someone must have taken a survey—of the the nearly 250 biologists in attendance, 60% reported that after eating the artichoke, water tasted different, a difference most of them described as “sweet” but a small number said was “bitter.”

The Science article reports on the results of an experiment that showed that artichoke extract modifies the taste of water by temporarily affecting the tongue rather than the food or drink (which makes it different than saccharine, which can make water taste sort of sweet and/or bitter as residue on the tongue is re-diluted). They also isolated two molecules found in artichokes—cholorgenic acid and cynarin, and found that both, independently, had a similar effects on the perceived sweetness of water as adding 2 tsp. sugar to 6 oz. water.

However, a less formal acknowledgment of the strange effects of the artichoke exists in the ancient folk wisdom that artichokes are “impossible” to pair with wine. An article in Wine News Magazine claims to “dispel” the “antiquated myth” of impossible pairings, but many of the suggestions purport to work by minimizing the presence or effect of the cynarin, either by boiling the artichoke in "ample water” or serving it with acids like lemon and/or mayonnaise. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether either technique actually does anything to the cynarin and/or chlorogenic acid, I’m not sure that eliminating the chemical basis for the unique taste of the artichoke passes muster as a successful “pairing.” Essentially what they’ve done there is pair the wine with a less-artichokey version of the artichoke.

The Science article notes that the effects of cynarin and cholorogenic acid last longer than the sweet taste of sugar or saccharine, but are weaker and shorter-lived than that of miraculin, the protein in “miracle fruit.” Miraculin works by adhering to sweet-receptors on the tongue and acids in food, which makes the acids activate the sweet-receptors. I tried that with a bunch of friends shortly after The New York Times reported on it, and it really is trippy—lemons taste like candy, goat cheese tastes like cheesecake, and we all got stomachaches from eating so much acidic food in such a short period of time.

However, the protein miraculin seems to affect a much larger percentage of the population than the acids in artichoke. Just like at the AAAS dinner, a large number of the 1972 experiment’s participants didn’t experience a sweet taste after consuming artichoke extract. And again, a very small number actually said that the artichokes made water taste bitter. So it seems like cynarin/cholorgenic acid must have a different kind of mechanism, one that works for a majority of the population but exempts a substantial minority. Sadly, I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is. Does it inhibit bitter receptors? Attach temporarily to a certain kind of sweet receptor not everyone has? It seems to make white wines taste more sour, so perhaps it inhibits the tongue from registering the sugars in the wine? I don’t know, and I have searched. If you know, please share.

Anyhow, back to the question of what might alter or inhibit the cynarin and/or cholorogenic acid. In a post on "Transcription and Translation" also largely based on that 1972 Science article, biochemist Alex Palazzo claims that “pickled artichoke hearts don’t have this property.” I’m not entirely convinced, although this might be an issue of semantics. I won’t dispute that the sweetish aftertaste of canned or jarred artichokes seems muted in comparison with fresh artichokes, but I swear that even in that ubiquitous creamy, spinach-filled dip, or as a pizza topping, or in salads, or when added to paella, artichokes preserved in brine do contribute a subtly-sweet taste that affects the entire dish and any accompanying beverages. However, again based on my own subjective tastes and personal experience, marinated artichokes have little or no sweet aftertaste.

The difference seems to be that marinades, by definition, contain acid whereas brines typically do not—brines are just salty solutions. Now, pickling can imply either. Traditional pickling methods involve fermenting foods in brine, with no added acid. Their sourness is a product of the acids produced during fermentation. The more common form of pickling today begins with a solution that has added acids, usually vinegar. If Palazzo was referring only to the latter method—which would be artichokes labeled “marinated,” I agree with him. That also makes sense with the chefs’ suggestions to add acids in order to make artichokes play nice with wine; added acids must interfere with the cynarin and/or cholorogenic acid in the artichoke. But salt doesn’t seem to. Artichokes sold canned or jarred in brine (also technically “pickled”) still make food taste sweet.

Tomorrow, as this is apparently becoming artichoke week, I’ll post a super-easy recipe you can try to test the effects of artichokes in brine for yourself.

[Edit: Comments closed due to spam, but I welcome feedback. Feel free to e-mail me (see “contact” tab).

Maple-brined Roast Pork Tenderloin, or adventures in amateur meat preparation

low lighting apparently makes food look like it comes from the 70s

I stopped eating meat when I went to college. I also changed my name. Both were pretty obviously acts of adolescent self-definition coinciding with the start of a new life chapter, which I basically knew even at the time, although of course I had other justifications. If you’d asked me then whether or not I thought the changes would be permanent, I’m sure I would have given vegetarianism better odds than "Margot." My parents still called me Stephanie, all my friends from high school still called me Stephanie, and even some of my new friends, on learning that "Margot" was a semi-adaptation of my middle name "Mariko," were insisting on using the Japanese version, as if my identification as if "Margot" was a sad capitulation to Western Culture that they were going to prove to me I didn’t have to make. Plus, there was no good reason for me to change my name; Stephanie wasn’t really that objectionable. Vegetarianism, on the other hand, seemed like a moral or socially responsible choice, and unlike the name change, it didn’t require anyone else to change their behavior.

I didn’t really consider the likelihood that if I just kept introducing myself as "Margot" to everyone I met for years, eventually the majority of the people I interacted with would think of that as my name—and, perhaps more importantly on the self-definition front, I would too. Which is precisely what has happened. Nor did I realize just how complicated the ethical implications of meat-eating were or give much thought to the idea that my vegetarianism would actually require people to change their behavior—that in fact, it might occasionally be a social imposition. And unless I somehow remained as autonomous as most college freshmen are, it would eventually me to either find a vegetarian to share cooking and eating duties with or require pretty behavioral changes on the part of any omnivore who I might cook for or who might cook for me on a regular basis.

So a decade later, my name is Margot, and I’m an omnivore.

But I’ve only started cooking and eating meat again in the last couple of years, and for most of that I was a pescetarian, so I’m really still a beginner at cooking meat. This was my first attempt at doing something, anything with pork tenderloin. I decided to brine it, because Alton Brown says that’s helps keep lean cuts like loin moist. As for the actual cooking, I decided to roast it because there’s a lot to be said for the ease and convenience of recipes that involve just throwing a piece of meat the oven for a long time so you can get on with doing other things. The various recipes books I consulted all suggested a blast of high heat to brown the outside and then long slow heat to cook the inside evenly, so that’s what I did.

like for real, this picture belongs in a 40-yr-old cookbook. i promise it was more appetizing in person.I didn’t get any Maillard reaction going on (which is what causes browning on the exterior) even thought the oven was preheated to 500F for half an hour. Maillard frequently escapes me. But other than, it was pretty delicious. You could taste the maple syrup, and it was perfectly pink and juicy and salty. I only had ground allspice, so I took it down from 1.5 T to 1 t. but I think that was still a little too much, so in the future I’d either get my hands on some whole allspice or cut it to 1/2 t. ground.

Served it with a quick colcannon-like dish I made by steaming unpeeled new potatoes whole while I chopped and then sautéed some cabbage and leeks in butter. When the potatoes were tender, I added them to the buttery cabbage and leeks with a generous splash of milk and some salt and pepper.

Pork recipe and instructions after the jump.

Recipe: Slow-roasted maple-brined pork tenderloin (adapted from the Joy of Cooking and Real restaurant recipes)

  • ~2 lbs pork tenderloin
  • 1/3 cup + 2 T.maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup + 2 T. kosher salt (do not substitute regular salt or it will be way too salty–or reduce significantly, possibly 1/4 cup?)
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • 2 1/2 cups cold water
  • 3 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1 t. ground allspice (or 1/2 T. slightly-crushed whole allspice)
  • 1/2 T. cracked black peppercorns
  • 1 t. whole yellow mustard seed, slightly crushed
  • 5 medium garlic cloves peeled and crushed

Dissolve the sugar and salt in hot water in a pot big enough to hold the cuts of meat and enough liquid to cover them. Crush, crumble, or crack the whole spices, add them along with the cold water, and stir. Add the pork loin, cover and refrigerate 6-24 hrs.

in the brine 

Preheat oven to 500, remove the meat from the brine and, and pat dry with paper towels.hog tied. ha! i kill me.

I decided to tie the two pieces of loin meat together to make one even cylinder because I was afraid they wouldn’t cook evenly otherwise and it seems like a lot of the roasts I’ve seen on television have some sort of twine action. I don’t have twine, but unwaxed dental floss seems to work just as well.

Let sit for 30 min while the oven preheats so the meat comes to room temperature before cooking.

Roast at 500F for 10 min, and then lower the oven temperature to 200. Cook until the internal temperature reaches 145F, which could be as little as 20 minutes for a very small (2″ diameter or less) tenderloin or as much as 80 min. A 3 lb loin should take about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours total. After you take it out of the oven, tent a piece of foil over it and let it rest for 10 min.

Voila. Pork tenderloin roast.