Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Apple Cider Braised Pork with Apples, Fennel and Potatoes

Does anyone else have the winter blues? This pork is the perfect fix.

The winter hasn't even been that bad here in Wisconsin. No blizzards. Only a few days with below zero wind chills. I'm just so excited for warmer weather but mostly for school to be over.

Braising is the best. This could probably be done in a slow cooker, with less liquid. This recipe was also intended for the Fall, when there was a plethora of apples, but it works for winter too. Am I right? I am. Thanks for agreeing.

When braising, the initial steps are key for a delicious finished product. Searing the meat, getting a nice caramelized exterior is key for flavor.

Sauteing the mirepoix (fancy for carrots, onions and celery etc.) in the drippings. You want a caramel-y brown color without scorching anything. Balance is key.

Step three is deglaze the pan, with brandy in this case, getting all of those caramelized brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Flavor city. Little flavor bombs. Tiny, yet powerful! Be sure to scrap the bottom of the pan.

Then you add your braising liquid. Enough to go about 1/3 to 1/2 way up your pork butt. We aren't boiling our pork. We are braising. Give the liquid a hand, bringing it to a simmer on the stove and then put it in the oven.

Forget about it for awhile. Simple.

In the last 45 minutes, add your vegetable. Take it to the next level. Fennel and apple add some flavor to the broth, making a nice aromatic of sorts.

Potatoes cooked in with all that flavorful sauce are perfect for serving.

One-pot meal!

This makes a ton of meat. Probably more meat than potato-veg mash. I ended up using leftover meat for tacos, tossing it in some store bought sauce and making a soup.

I would have been eating the same thing twice a day for at least a week otherwise. I need more variety in my meals.
This is a really impressive meal, with minimal effort. Just a little bit of preparation and planning. Braising is really easy, with a crazy flavor impact for such little labor.

Pork not your thing? Chicken could work really well in here too. Or turkey!

I mashed all the veg together to make a little bed for the meat. Not necessary, but that is my preferred vessel for meat of this sort.

The apple cider adds a caramel-y, tangy, sweetness to the whole dish and the fennel and lemon zest add brightness and a little something unexpected. It isn't too sweet though.

Finishing the whole thing off with a little cider vinegar adds brightness, cutting the sweetness. It really makes a difference. Rounds the whole dish out. Promise.


Serves 5 to 6 


4 to 5 lb. pork butt
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
Kosher salt
ground black pepper
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium onion diced
2 whole dried bay leaves
1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
1 Tbs. finely chopped garlic
Zest of half a lemon, wide strips (3-4 strips)
1/4 cup brandy, apple brandy if you have it
1-1/2 cup lower-salt chicken broth
1-1/2 cup apple cider 
1 medium fennel bulb, diced
1 apple, peeled and diced
6 to 8 small red potatoes
1 to 2 tsp. cider vinegar
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F. In an 8-quart Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbs. of the oil over medium heat. Season the pork with salt and pepper. Add pork to the pot, and cook, turning with tongs, until nicely browned on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Pour off all but a thin layer of fat from the pan.

Add the remaining 1 Tbs. oil, carrots, celery and onions to the pan. Season with 1/2 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, until the aromatics are soft and lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add bay leaves, lemon zest, thyme, and garlic, and cook, stirring, until well distributed and fragrant, about 1 minute.

Pour the brandy into the pot and cook, stirring to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot, until the liquid is reduced to about 2 Tbs., about 1 minute.

Transfer the pork (and any juices that have accumulated) back into the pot. Pour the chicken broth and apple cider over the ribs.

Bring the liquid to a simmer, cover, and put the pot in the oven. Cook, turning the pork with tongs after about an hour, total cooking times is about 2 to 3 hours. In the last 45 minutes of cooking, add the apples, fennel and potatoes, until the potatoes are fork tender and the meat is falling off the bone. (The meat may fall off most of the bone about midway through cooking; this does not mean that the ribs are fully tender.)

Transfer the ribs to a serving platter or dish. Let the sauce and solids sit in the pot for a few minutes to cool and with a shallow spoon, skim off as much of the fat as possible from the surface. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper, and add the vinegar.

Optional: spoon out the vegetables, mashing them, making a chunky mashed potato mixture. Then reduce the sauce for 10 to 15 minutes, making a sort of gravy. Serve the meat over the potatoes, drizzled with the reduced sauce.

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