Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pork, Cider and Apples

Pork and apples really is a classic combination, and today's recipe uses a leg of pork and Granny Smith apples, along with the delicious addition of my favourite summer drink - apple cider. The cider, pork and apples combine to form a beautiful rich gravy with the perfect balance and sweetness and tartness. Fenel seeds add some subtle aromatics that take the flavour to another level.

 This dish is very versatile. Serve it as is, with vegetables or rice. Turn it into a fancy cottage pie by adding creamy mash to the top and browning it in the oven. Or do what I did and use it as a filling for a wonderful golden crusted pie. Individual pies would be lovely too.

Be sure to choose a good quality cider for this dish - just like wine, if you aren't happy to drink it, it doesn't belong in your food! There are lots of good ones around these days. My favourite cider at the moment is Monteith's Crushed Apple Cider from the rugged west coast of New Zealand.  It is usually sold in packs of 4 bottles - which works out great. One for the recipe and three to drink while you wait for the pork to cook! This is a slow cooked dish (2 hours), so I don't recommend making this when you rush home from work. I cooked it on Sunday morning, let it cool and then popped my pastry on the top to cook at dinner time. You could also make it the day before you wanted to serve it. Easy.

Pork, Apple & Cider Pie
Ready to serve with an icy cold Monteith's Cider

Apples make this dish taste fabulous, but did you know that there may be something in that old saying "an apple a day keeps the doctor away"? Apples and apple cider have a high concentration of phenolics and antioxidants which can be helpful in preventing heart disease, cancer, and other ailments. Bring on the Monteith's I say!

Other good ciders to look out for are Pipsqueak Cider from Little Creatures Brewery in Western Australia and Huon Cider which comes from Tasmania. If you can't get these, Magner's or Bulmer's - probably the most common cider you see around, is fine. Strongbow have been selling cider for a long time, but I'm not a huge fan of it. There are better ones out there and any large bottle shop will be sure to have a selection.

Served with creamy mash and Sauteed cabbage
Served on my favourite second hand French  flea market plates

This recipe will easily serve 4 to 6 people and is ideal to freeze as well. So don't be put off by the lengthy cooking time. Make it when you have time and heat it up when you don't. I used a smallish leg of pork for my dish, but any diced pork with a little bit of fat on it would be fine. Just don't choose pork that is too lean for this - you are cooking it for a long time, so lean cuts will just dry out. Save those for grilling or pan frying. You can also experiment with different varieties of apples - but I recommend using apples that are a little on the tart side for best results. The eschallots break down, caramelise and become very sweet, so a tart apple stops the dish from being too cloying.

You will need: 1.5 - 2kg boneless leg of pork, 10-15 eschallots, About 330ml apple cider (I used 1 small bottle of Monteith's Crushed Apple Cider - my favourite), 2 cloves garlic, 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 litre chicken stock, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon cornflour, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds roughly chopped, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley stalks, 3 Granny Smith apples peeled and cored, salt and pepper, olive oil.

Method: Preheat the oven to 160C.

Remove the skin from the leg of pork. Cut the pork into cubes about 4 cm each. Place them in a bowl with a splash of olive oil, the paprika and a very generous seasoning of salt and pepper. Mix well (your hands are best for this)

Heat a pan on the top of the stove that can be used on your stovetop and then transferred to the oven - cast iron is great for this. Splash in some olive oil and cook the pork in batches. You want it to have a bit of colour, but it doesn't need to be cooked through. Set the pork aside.

Now put the eshallots in the pan with the fennel seeds, garlic and parsley stalks. Cook them for a minute, then add the pork and stir well. Pour in the stock and the cider. Add the mustard and season with salt and pepper. Put a lid on the pot and transfer to the oven - preheated to 160C. Cook for 1 hour with the lid on.

Cut the apple into bite sized pieces. In a cup, mix the cornflour and a couple of tablespoons of water together until smooth.

Remove the pork from the oven, stir through the cornflour mixture and the apples. Turn up the oven to 200C. Return the pot to the oven and cook uncovered for another hour, stirring occasionally.

You can eat the pork at this stage with mash or vegetables - or like I did today, allow the mixture to cool, transfer to a pie dish, cover with pastry and bake until golden to make a delicious pie. I served mine with creamy mash and sauteed cabbage.


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