Reliably in Munich the old adage ‘As the days grow longer the cold grows stronger’ is proven true every year. This week started with icy arctic winds and snow, and the warmth of sunny Sydney seems far away. All the more reason then, to bunker down in the cosy kitchen and enjoy plenty of comfort food.
If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that I love using the oven. Cooking things in the oven takes all the panic and last minute stress out of meal preparation. While things might be initially dealt to on the stove top, by the time they have slowly cooked in the oven for a couple of hours, the dishes are washed, the kitchen is clean, the table is set and I am serenely ready for a gutsy glass of red wine and to tuck into the food that has been wafting mouthwatering aromas through the house.
Speaking of truly delicious meals, the recipe I have for you today, Pork and Cider Stew, rich with chopped apples and pungent with aromatic sage, is an absolute winner. Meltingly tender pork coated in a thick and flavoursome sauce will warm even the most wintery of hearts – best of all, it is minimum effort for maximum flavour.
The first trick with any stew or casserole is simple. Avoid at all costs the little plastic tubs of pre-diced meat from the supermarket. I will never understand why they cut the cubes of meat so small. If you have ever tried to make a casserole or stew with these little cubes, you’ll have found that they shrink away to almost nothing, and if you’re really unlucky, turn into little rubber bullets. I am positively evangelical about the importance of buying bigger cuts of meat to chop up yourself at home – it truly tastes better, costs less and you know exactly what you are getting. Support your local butcher and get a lovely piece of meat that will reward you in every way.
The second trick is to cut that meat into much bigger pieces than you would think necessary, cubes of around 5 centimetres / 2 inches, and to really, really brown them in the pan before you put them into the stew. This will stop them shrinking away to nothing, and searing the meat properly is what will make the stew rich with flavour. I’ve included lots of pictures with this recipe so you can see exactly what I’m talking about.
Let me know if you try this recipe in the comments below, or using the hashtag #daysofjay on Instagram. Happy cooking!
Pork & Cider Stew
- 1.25-1.5 kg pork neck / pork collar
- 1-2 Tbsp neutral oil
- 2 large brown onions peeled, halved and sliced from root to tip
- 200 g celeriac or celery roughly diced
- 2 parsnips sliced
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and sliced
- 2 slices streaky bacon chopped
- 2 apples peeled, cored and roughly chopped, (Braeburn, Bramley or similar)
- 2 Tbsp plain flour
- 250 ml cider
- 500 ml chicken stock made with 1 stock cube
- small bunch of sage ca. 25g, leaves roughly chopped
- 1 Tbsp Dijon or whole seed mustard
- salt & black pepper
- crusty bread, mash, steamed greens, etc.
- Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Using a sharp knife, cut the pork into cubes of roughly 5cm. No need to get your ruler out, just eyeball it. Dry the cubes with some paper towel, then season generously with salt and pepper.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, heavy-based pot over a medium-high flame. I use an enamelled cast iron pot similar to a Le Creuset, but any sturdy pot will do. When the oil is hot, brown the meat in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pot, and ensuring that it gets properly browned. Use a long pair of tongs as the oil can spit a little bit. As each batch is browned, remove to a plate, let the oil heat up for a few seconds and start on the next one. When the meat first comes in contact with the pan, it will stick a little, leave it to brown for a couple of minutes and it will come away from the pan easier.
- When the meat is browned, add the remaining oil and onions to the pot then cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes until beginning to soften. Add the celeriac or celery, parsnip, garlic and bacon to the pan and continue cooking for another couple of minutes.
- Stir in the flour, cook another 2 minutes, then pour in the cider to deglaze the pan, using a wooden spatula to scrape up all the delicious browned on flavour on the bottom of the pan. Pour in the chicken stock, then add the apples and the sage. Stir in the mustard, then bring to the boil.
- Remove from the heat, cover with a tightly fitting lid, and cook in the preheated oven for 2 hours. I like to get it out at the 1-hour mark, check that it is not drying out (if your lid is not heavy or tightly fitting this is important), give it all a stir and put it back in the oven.
- After 2 hours, remove from the oven, carefully take off the lid, give it another stir and enjoy the incredible aromas. Check that the meat is tender by using two forks to shred a few pieces (I shred about half and leave the rest dramatically whole) season if necessary with a little salt and pepper and serve. If the meat is still not tender, give it an extra half an hour in the oven, however, it should be fine.
- I tend to serve this with big hunks of crusty bread and plenty of steamed greens - it’s great too with lots of creamy mashed potato and other similar rib stickers. If you like, fry a few sage leaves in a little oil until crispy (this takes under a minute) leave to drain on a paper towel and use it as a garnish.
TIPS & TRICKS:
While the alcohol in this cooks away to absolutely nothing, if you’d prefer not to use it then substitute the same amount of cloudy apple juice plus a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.
I use pork neck or pork collar as it is a lovely, rich piece of meat and not expensive. The long, slow cooking breaks it down and makes it meltingly tender. If you can’t get ahold of it, then try pork shoulder, or loin (not tenderloin).
I find this recipe comfortably feeds four – it is incredibly moreish so four adults can easily keep dipping back in until it’s finished. If you are feeding more people either use a little more meat (in which case you’ll need to scale the recipe up accordingly) though you will need a fairly large pot or casserole. Otherwise just bump up the quantity of side dishes to fill everyone up.
You have heard it before and I’ll say it again, brown the meat in batches, without overcrowding the pan, otherwise you’ll just steam it. For this amount of pork in my smallish cast iron pot, I can get it done in three batches.