Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cider-Braised Pork (Porc au cidre)

I had a lot of memorable meals in Paris. Luckily for me, many of the venues were just a short walk from my apartment in the 10eme arrondissement. One of my favorites was the understated Le Scherkhan on the Rue d'Hauteville ( I went for the first time with my friend Noelle when she was in Paris for research, and then again with two of my fellow Terra fellows from the previous summer, Dominkia and Allie. And a few other times besides. This restaurant is small, chill, and serves delicious food (with a cool old dumb waiter that opens up from the floor to reach the kitchen below). Easily my favorite dish here is the porc au cider, a small Le Creuset pot of tender pork medallions braised in cider. The sauce was as good as the meat, and I probably devoured an entire baguette by myself lapping up the delicious juices. On one occasion, I was raving so voraciously about this dish that the waitress brought the chef out to chat with me. I asked him how he made this dish, and he gave me a great description, which alas did not quite stick to my conscious memory (or perhaps I did not understand the French as well as I thought I had...). Still, I decided to see if I could emulate this dish in my own kitchen. Given the lack of Breton cider here (which is much less sweet than American hard ciders), I could not get an exact match, but I came pretty close.

I discovered a new meat market in the process of collecting the items needed to prepare this dish. I constantly complain about the expense of grocery shopping in New York City, with the Amish Market and a Food Emporium as my two closest grocers. Since they are further afield, trips to the Fairway or Trader Joe's have to be planned. However, neither the Amish Market nor the Food Emporium had a cut of pork that I thought would be suitable for this dish. Pork chops are already so tender that braising them would make them fall apart. I found another butcher on 10th avenue, but alas they did not take credit/debit cards, so I went back to my apartment empty-handed. I fished around on the internet hoping I would not have to take a break-the-bank walk up to the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle. And I discovered what will be a long-term relationship... with the Big Apple Meat Market ( In addition to groceries, they have a large meat locker that you can walk through to select cuts of meat that have been just wrapped and placed on the shelves. The butcher that I spoke with was knowledgable and nice as he helped me choose between the larger pork shoulder and the slightly smaller pork butt, both cuts being good for braising which makes them tender. In the end, I definitely overcooked my meat, which left it dry, but the sauce was pretty near perfect. I served this with mashed potatoes and bok choy (blanched and then sautéed with a little bit of salt and nutmeg).

Cider-Braised Pork

a 2 1/2 -3 lb cut of pork
2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, one sliced the other diced
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cloves, ground or whole
2 bay leafs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper (I dropped my pepper grinder irretrievably behind my oven, so have been using white ground pepper, which is delicious)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1 tsp herbs de provence
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 22 oz bottle hard cider
2 cups of water
1 tbl cornstarch
1 cup water

1. Pat the pork dry with a paper towel.
2. Make small slices into the meat and tuck slices of garlic into those pockets.
3. Rub salt and pepper and herbes de provence into the pork.
4. Heat a thick pot and place 1/2 tsp of olive oil in it.
5. Brown the piece of meat on all sides over high heat, rotating it frequently with tongs. This will take 10-15 minutes.
6. Remove the meat from the pot and sauté garlic and onion until soft.
7. Add the spices to the mixture. This list is only a suggestion - I put a little bit of many of the spices I have in my cabinet - trying to balance between sweet and savory spices. Without Herbs de Provence, use thyme or savory blend.
8. Add the cider, bullion cube, and 1-2 cups of water to dilute the sweetness of the cider.
9. Once the mixture is bubbling, turn the heat to low and put the meat back into the mixture. Timing is a bit difficult, but it probably should have been about an hour and a half at most for this size meat at a slow simmer.
10. Once the meat is fully cooked, remove it and mix in a cup of water with 1 tbl cornstarch dissolved into it. Turn up the heat to thicken the sauce.
reheating is easy and delicious!
11. Leave the meat for 10-12 minutes to set before slicing.
12. Serve over mashed potatoes with a green vegetable.

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