Cozy Cider-Braised Pork
As I type this, the snow is blowing outside my window and the temperature is a frigid 7° Fahrenheit. No doubt about it: This is braising weather. I want the cozy comfort of a slow-cooked meal, with the oven radiating heat and good smells filling the house.
I’ve been working on this recipe for cider-braised pork this week and I’m very happy with its simplicity and big flavor. The ingredients are simple: pork shoulder (also called pork butt or Boston butt) pearl onions (frozen and thawed, or fresh, peeled onions), mushrooms, 3 large apples, thyme, allspice, chicken stock, and hard cider.
The hard cider is probably the most exotic ingredient here, which is ironic, since cider was a very popular beverage in early America. President John Adams drank it for breakfast. Thankfully, cider has had a bit of a resurgence in recent years.
The method is also simple: Browning the meat and vegetables, adding liquid, and cooking in a closed pot for about 3 hours. The result is tender meat in a rich, savory sauce that has a bit of sweetness thanks to the apples and cider. I like to serve it over polenta, but you can also choose noodles, mashed potatoes, spaetzle, or couscous.
Cider-Braised Pork with Onions and Apple Recipe
Total time: About 4 hours
Hands-on time: 45 minutes
Makes: 6 to 8 servings
Ingredients for Cider-Braised Pork:
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more as needed to thicken sauce
- 2 tablespoons, plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive or other vegetable oil
- 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 lb. boneless pork shoulder (pork butt or Boston butt), excess fat removed
- 1 lb. whole pearl onions (frozen and thawed or fresh)
- 10 ounces sliced button mushrooms (white mushrooms)
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 cups hard cider, such as Harpoon or Angry Orchard brand
- 1 1/2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
- 3 large apples, any variety, skin-on, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- Garnish: Fresh thyme sprigs
Instructions for Cider-Braised Pork
1. In a large, shallow bowl, stir together the 3 tablespoons flour, 2 tablespoons salt, and pepper (not all of the salt will stick to the pork, so don’t be scared off by the amounts). Roll the pork shoulder in the flour mixture to coat, then shake off any excess.
2. Preheat the oven to 325° and set a rack to the middle position. On the stove top, set a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the oil, let it heat for a minute, then add the pork. Brown the meat all over, 3 to 4 minutes per side, adjusting the heat as needed to keep the flour from burning. Remove the pork and all but 3 tablespoons of fat from the pot. Set aside the pork and discard the excess fat.
3. Add the onions to the pot and increase heat to high. Cook the onions, stirring often, until browned in parts, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove half the onions with a slotted spoon and set them aside. Add the mushrooms to the pot with the remaining onions and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are nicely browned and have visibly shrunk, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the allspice and thyme and stir, then add the cider, stirring the bottom of the pot to pick up any browned bits. Add the chicken broth and then return the pork to the pot. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then cover the pot and transfer it to the preheated oven. Cook the pork for 2 1/2 hours, then remove from the oven.
4. Add the apples and reserved onions to the pot, stir, and return to the oven. Cook 30 more minutes; the pork should now be very tender when poked with a fork; if not, cook for 15 minutes more. Remove the pork from the pot, transfer to a carving board, and tent with foil. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the apples and onions to your serving bowl.
5. If you want to thicken the sauce, you have two options. You can simmer it over medium-high heat until it thickens a bit or you can pour about 3/4 cup of sauce into a small bowl and whisk in 2 tablespoons of flour. Whisk until this mixture is smooth, then stir it back into the pot and simmer until the rest of the sauce thickens.
6. Taste the sauce and add more salt if needed. Slice the pork into 1/4-inch-thick slices and transfer to your serving bowl with the onions and apples. Pour the sauce over all, garnish with additional fresh thyme, and serve over polenta, noodles, mashed potatoes, spaetzle, or couscous.