When selecting cider, make sure that you buy one of a good quality - unfortunately a lot of them sold in bottle shops are made from nasty fruit concentrate, which I find cloying and unpleasant. I choose Monteith's because it is all pure crushed fresh fruit with no concentrate additive. If you can't find Monteith's, ask the bottle shop person to point you in the direction of a good quality alternative.
Although this recipe has a fennel component, don't be put off if you aren't a fan of fennel like I am. (I could happily eat it every day!) The fennel in this dish caramelises with the the onions to create a meltingly sweet gravy that is to die for. Because the dish is cooked for a long time, the aniseed flavour becomes very subtle and all you taste is soft, sweet goodness. To finish the sauce, I have added a little soft cream cheese (I used the low fat kind) I have found this a great, lighter alternative to cream, that still gives that wonderful richness. A touch of mustard and a little sweet honey adds warmth and depth to the dish.
Tonight I chose to serve this dish very simply with some roasted Dutch carrots and super fresh, seasonal green beans. It would also be great with mash or rice - or even a serve of golden polenta. Whatever you serve with it, this lovely pork dish will make you warmer than a leopard print snuggie on a chilly winter night. Snuggle up folks!
Slow cooked pork with pear cider
and braised fennel
You will need: 1 piece pork neck or scotch fillet - 1 to 1.5kg, 2 large chopped brown onions, 1 large chopped stalk celery, 1 large fennel bulb cut into generous pieces, 4 finely chopped cloves garlic, 2 cups rich chicken stock, splash of olive oil, pinch cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon honey, 2 teaspoons wholegrain mustard, a few finely chopped fresh sage leaves, 1 x 375ml bottle pear cider (I used Monteith's crushed pear cider), 1 tablespoon soft cream cheese, 3 teaspoons cornflour mixed with enough water to make a loose paste, salt and pepper.
Method: Preheat the oven to 160C. Season the meat generously with salt. In a large heavy dish with a lid that can go from stove top to oven, heat a splash of olive oil and brown the meat on all sides. Set aside.
Add the chopped onion and celery and cook for a few minutes, until it starts to soften. Add the fennel and the garlic and cook for another minute or two, seasoning well with salt and pepper. Add the honey, mustard, cayenne and sage. Mix well.
Add the the cider and then the stock and combine thoroughly. Cover and cook for 1 hour. After an hour, give the dish a stir through and baste the meat with the sauce, turning it over once. Allow the dish to cook for another 45 minutes.
After the second stage of cooking, remove the dish from the oven and add the soft cream cheese and the cornflour mixture. It will begin to thicken a little. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. Return it to the oven for another 10 minutes.
Remove the dish from the oven and allow it to rest for a few minutes, before slicing the pork into generous thick slices. Pour over the sauce and serve with seasonal vegetables.
Serves 4-6 people.