Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cider Braised Pork Shoulder with Apples and Cranberries

Almost as if making up for the pot roast I never made last year, this pork roast warms every corner of my house with such a jolly holiday scent that you'd think Christmas is here once again.

Pork and apples are a classic pair that are always meant for each other. Featuring in this recipe - second of my winter series highlighting fresh British ingredients - are English Bramley apples, a unique variety ideal for cooking as it retains a stronger, tangier flavor and gives a pleasantly buttery texture.

This recipe uses apple cider as the braising liquid (reminds me of New York's farmers markets in the winter!), imbueing the pork with acidity that tenderizes, and sweetness that balances the savoriness of the meat. Add in tart cranberries and mulling spices along with several idle hours in the oven, and there you have a wonderfully succulent pork roast that not only smells but also tastes like the holidays.

As no prior brining is necessary, this dish is incredibly simple - as well as economical and foolproof. Most affordable cuts like pork shoulder would do as slow braising breaks down the tough fibers in the meat. So if you are looking to do something slightly different from roasting a whole turkey on your next holiday, consider trading the Big Bird in for some juicy, tender Porky Pig... and be sure to serve up some crusty artisan bread to sop up all the essence!

To prepare...
1 kg, or 2 lb. fresh pork shoulder
Olive oil
3 medium onions, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 cup unfiltered apple cider (I used spiced cider!)
2 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
Pinch of cloves
Pinch of whole peppercorns

For the sauce:
2 firm Bramley apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup fresh cranberries (thawed if frozen)
3 tablespoons brown sugar (or to taste, optional)
A splash more of apple cider
2-3 strips of orange peel
Fresh thyme leaves, plus extra for garnishing

1. Preheat oven to 170C/325F. Season pork well with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large, oven-proof* heavy pot over moderately high heat, brown meat on all sides, turning as needed, about 8 minutes. Set pork aside.

2. Add onions to the same pot and sauté until softened and started to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and caramelized, about 8 minutes more. Stir in cider.

*Now, if you are lucky enough to have a large oven, return pork to pot, cover pot with a tight-fitting lid, and place into the pre-heated oven.

3. Otherwise, place pork into a large casserole, pour in the cider and onions, and cover tightly with foil, pressing down firmly along the rim. Place in the oven to braise until very tender, about 2 1/2 - 3 hours. Turn pork over once halfway through the time of cooking, adding in the cinnamon stick, cloves, bay leaf, and peppercorns. 

To make the sauce...
4. When meat is nearly done in the oven, heat butter over medium heat, cook apple slices until soft and lightly golden. Remove from heat until pork is ready.

5. Remove bay leaf and transfer pork to a plate. Skim fat off the juices, then pour into the apples. Add remaining cider, 3/4 cup of the cranberries, thyme, and the orange peel. Bring to a boil until the cranberries pop and the mixture is reduced and thickened. Taste sauce, adding brown sugar if too tart. Season with more spices as you please.

6. Return pork and add the remaining cranberries to the sauce, stirring to cover meat in sauce to briefly reheat. Transfer to a serving dish or casserole and garnish with fresh thyme. Serve with a side of mash and crusty artisan bread! Bon appétit!

Recommended side: Swede and Parsnip Bake with Buttery Crumbs

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