Last winter we bought a half of a pig from our neighbors Gwen and Fred, of apple and garlic fame. We’ve been steadily working our way through all 100 pounds of it, and it’s been a real joy to bring to the table each time. I can’t speak highly enough about the virtues of buying in bulk like this from a source you know and trust, whether it be from a local farm, a vendor at your farmers’ market or a friend. When you buy a half or whole pig (or cow), you not only get a great price, you also have the experience of cooking every cut available, if you haven’t already. You may learn a bit more about butchering if, as in our case, you must speak with the butcher to discuss how the animal is prepared. You can get cuts of pork that aren’t always readily available at markets, such as pork belly (which is usually just turned in to more profitable bacon). But most importantly, it feels good to know that the pigs were well cared for and happy and it is gratifying to sit down to a meal the provenance of which is completely transparent.
The weather is looking a bit gray for the near future here in Seattle:
Which means braises like this are back in style! This is a decadent, rich, braised pork dish. When I first made it about two years ago, Beryl declared it one of the best meals I’d ever prepared. The addition of sour cream to the braising liquid adds lushness and body and the toasted almonds deliver a nutty flavor and texture. The crunch and acidity of the apples help to temper the richness of the dish and the mushrooms bring an earthy quality perfect for the fall.
We have made this with Calvados, Applejack, and Cognac, and determined that for our money (Calvados being somewhat spendy), Cognac or Applejack do the job just fine. But, if you happen to have some Calvados lying around, give it a shot. We got the original recipe from The Wine Lovers Cookbook, but I’ve modified the method and cooking times to increase the tenderness of the meat. The original recipe called for about 40 minutes of braising time and I never got the results I desired. Be prepared to adjust the cooking duration to suit your pork.
While it may not be the most classic of pairings, the Wine Lover suggests pairing this with a nice round barrel aged Chardonnay and I have to say that I think it works well. But while you’re waiting for the pork to braise, why don’t you use some of the rest of that Calvados and make yourself an Applejack Rabbit.
Braised Pork with Apples, Mushrooms, and Calvados
Modified from The Wine Lovers Cookbook
- 1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
- 1 cup chopped yellow onions
- 4 oz pancetta or bacon, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1½ lbs pork stew meat (from shoulder), cut into 1-inch pieces
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
- 1 Tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
- ½ tsp poppyseed
- ¼ cup white wine
- ⅓ cup Calvados or other apple brandy, or cognac
- 1 cup chicken stock
- ½ cup sour cream
- 1 cup peeled, cored, and sliced McIntosh (or similar) apples
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- GARNISH: toasted, diced almonds; chopped parsley
In a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat, sauté mushrooms, onions, pancetta, and garlic in butter until onions are translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside, covered.
Season pork with salt and pepper. Add pork and poppyseed to pan and sauté until pork is lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add tarragon, thyme, wine, Calvados, chicken stock, and reserved mushroom, onion, and pancetta mixture and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to a simmer, cover pan, and simmer for 1½ to 2 hours or until pork is tender.
Stir in sour cream and continue simmering, uncovered for 15 minutes to reduce liquid further. Meanwhile, toast a handful of diced or slivered almonds on the stovetop and chop a few tablespoons of parsley for garnish. Add apples to pan and continue cooking for 3 to 4 minutes to barely cook apples. They should still have some crunch. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spoon onto plates (or bowls) and garnish with almonds and parsley. Serve with a crusty bread to sop up all the delicious sauce.