Seth Helmly calls himself “a hopeless romantic” when it comes to cooking over a wood fire. “I’m infatuated with everything fire,” says Helmly, who owns East Sac’s Joon Market with his fiancée, Saba Rahimian.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Helmly and Rahimian rented an Airstream trailer and took off on a cross-country road trip. Staying at nearly deserted campgrounds, they cooked outdoors every night, scrounging for downed wood and using a jerry-rigged baking rack and a Dutch oven to make tacos, pizza, casseroles, eggs, burritos and more. “I thoroughly enjoyed it,” says Helmly. “It was a meditative experience. The level of attention and concentration it takes to cook with that sort of power source keeps you aware and in the moment.”
Raised on the southeast coast of Texas, Helmly grew up on food cooked over fire. His mom organized and judged competition barbecue events, and he was fed a steady diet of the stuff. Eventually, he went to culinary school and worked as a chef. He and Rahimian met while working at a restaurant in Austin and moved to Sacramento (her hometown) during the pandemic. They opened Joon Market late last year.
A pellet smoker with an attached wood grill sits outside the chic little eatery, which specializes in sandwiches, provisions and a rotating lineup of smoked meats on weekends. Helmly loves the simplicity of cooking with fire, and he’s a fan of subtle smoke. “I like to be able to taste the protein,” he explains. He’s also keen on smoking vegetables. The restaurant’s smoked broccoli melt (essentially a fancy grilled cheese sandwich) features lightly smoked broccoli, cheddar and provolone cheeses and house-made fermented jalapeño hot sauce. “At Joon, we use smoke as an ingredient,” he says.
Jalapeño-Glazed Pork Chops With Pickled Peaches
At home, Seth Helmly grills pork chops “all the time.” He and fiancée Saba Rahimian like to eat with the seasons, so he makes these quick-pickled peaches to accompany the chops. Serves 4
¼ cup kosher salt
¼ cup sugar
2 cups water
2 cups ice water
4 center-cut bone-in pork chops (8 ounces each)
2 green onions, sliced, for serving
1 jalapeño, sliced, for serving
Fresh mint, chopped, for serving
6 semi-ripe peaches, halved and pitted
1¾ cups white vinegar
1½ cups water
1¼ cups sugar
4 allspice berries
3 black peppercorns
3 coriander seeds
2 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup honey
1 cup peach pickling liquid
2 tablespoons Braggs Liquid Aminos (you can substitute soy sauce)
⅓ jalapeño, roughly sliced
To brine the pork chops:
Combine salt, sugar and 2 cups water in a large saucepan. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until salt and sugar are fully dissolved. Remove from heat and add 2 cups ice water to cool the brine to room temperature.
Place pork chops in a large resealable plastic bag and add cooled brine. Seal bag and refrigerate for 4 hours.
To make the pickled peaches:
Lay each peach half flat and cut into four equal pieces. Combine remaining ingredients in a nonreactive pot and bring liquid to a boil. Set aside 1 cup liquid for glaze.
Place peach slices in a Mason jar or container with a lid and cover with the remaining hot pickling liquid. Let peaches sit in the liquid at room temperature for at least 24 hours and up to seven days.
To make the glaze:
Combine honey, pickling liquid, aminos and jalapeño in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the liquid becomes frothy and resembles hot maple syrup, about 5–8 minutes. Remove from heat and let glaze cool slightly. Remove jalapeño and set glaze aside.
To grill the pork chops:
Remove pork chops from brine and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Place rinsed chops on a plate lined with paper towels and pat dry. Let chops sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Prepare and light a charcoal grill. When the coals are ready, set up a two-zone medium-hot fire. Start chops on the “hot” side of the grill, searing each side for 2–3 minutes. Move chops to the “cool” side and let them finish cooking, 2–4 minutes on each side.
Once chops reach an internal temperature of 140 degrees, remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice pork chops to desired thickness, spoon a generous portion of glaze onto chop and garnish with pickled peaches, sliced green onions, jalapeño slices and mint.