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The Stuff of Pork – These Little Piggies Are Full of Fall Flavor

October 26, 2009
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Pork Chops Stuffed with Dried Apples and Cranberries, Gorganzola, Sage & Braised in Cider with Caramelized Onions and Apples
Pork Chops Stuffed with Dried Apples and Cranberries, Gorgonzola, Sage & Braised in Cider with Caramelized Onions and Apples

It’s the last week of October and we have both feet firmly planted in the fall. Apples and other fall fruits are dripping off the trees. It’s time to braise some comfort food in apple cider, old-fashioned hard cider.

Like slow cookers and clay pots, long slow braising in the oven is a wonderful way to prepare a meal for a brisk fall evening. All methods can be forgiving ways of cooking as well. One plus is you can use inexpensive cuts that can be tough and the braising coaxes that stubborn meat into melting ribbons of flavor.

Another plus is you can often prepare your dish a day early and simply reheat. Some recipes actually taste better and more complex after cooling and allowing the flavors to meld in the refrigerator.

Pork is one of those meats, like game, that has an affinity for marrying well with various combinations of fruit, wine and spirits. Soon after arriving in Oregon I discovered a recipe on epicurious.com for Cider Braised Pork Shoulder with Caramelized Onions. It was an instant hit. I frequently tinker with recipes, and in this one I substituted a pork butt for the shoulder and doubled the onions and cider. I wanted to have more of the sweet oniony gravy to go with any leftover pork. The next day I made terrific open-face sandwiches drenched with the sauce and a little horseradish. It’s a tossup as to which was better, the original meal or the day-after sandwiches.

My inspiration for this post was simply a desire to braise some pork in the wonderful cider from Wandering Aengus Ciderworks in Salem. I settled on combining some ingredients and method from the recipe mentioned in the previous paragraph with another for Stuffed Pork Chops with Roasted Apples and Calvados from Saveur Magazine. Amazingly, all the ingredients came from Oregon.

Cider Braised Stuffed Pork Chops with Caramelized Onions and Apples

  1. 4 thick cut, bone in, pork chops
  2. 1 22oz (650ml) bottle of Wandering Aengus “Bloom Cider”*
  3. 4 large cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced (I used Braeburn apples)
  4. 1/2 cup (120 ml) dried apple
  5. 1/2 cup(120 ml) dried sweetened cranberries
  6. Apple brandy of Calvados (I used Clear Creek Apple Brandy)
  7. 1/2 cup(120 ml) Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (you guessed it, Oregonzola from Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon)
  8. Fresh sage leaves, finely chopped to a chiffonade, about 1 tablespoon (15 ml)
  9. 1 large onion, peeled, halved top to bottom then cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  10. 1 clove garlic
  11. Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  12. Olive oil

Preheat oven to 325º F (165º C – gas mark 3)

  • Place the dried fruit in a small saucepan and add the apple brandy almost to cover. Heat gently to plump up the fruit.
  • Mix together the plumped fruit, sage and Gorgonzol
  • Peel and halve the garlic clove lengthwise and remove any green sprout. Thinly slice crosswise.
  • Make small punctures around the pork chops with a knife and insert the garlic. (I use a chopstick to do this.)
  • Using a very sharp knife (a boning knife would be good), make a deep pocket in the sides of each chop being careful not to cut all the way through.
  • Stuff each chop with 1/4 of the fruit mixture and secure with a toothpick or sew together with some kitchen twine and an upholstery needle.
  • Heat about 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven and brown the chops on both sides over medium high heat. Remove to a plate and keep warm.
  • Add the onions to the pot and cook, stirring often until they begin to turn golden and caramelize.
  • Deglaze with the bottle of cider and return the chops to the pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer then cover and place in the oven to braise for 2½ – 3 hours.
  • About 1 hour into the braising, add the apples and return to the oven to finish cooking.

Remove to a platter along with the apple and onion sauce.  Serve immediately

*“Bloom Cider is an authentic medium sweet cider that offers an aromatic apple nose and a bright clean finish. Serve chilled and enjoy with spicy foods or by itself.”

We served the Wanderlust Cider, also from Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, with the stuffed chops.

Wanderlust Cider is an authentic semi-dry cider with a rich body and a long ginger spice finish. Serve slightly chilled and enjoy with BBQ, pork, turkey, or aged cheddar.”

The sides you see in the photo are Horseradish Mashed Potatoes and a wilted baby spinach salad.

You can find the Horseradish Mashed Potatoes recipe at epicurios.com. My version was lightened up considerable. I used less than half of the butter and substituted whole milk for the cream or half and half. If my potatoes still need thinning, I usually add chicken stock.

For the spinach, I heat a generous amount of olive oil (Think salad dressing for the spinach to determine how much olive oil) and sauté about 1/3-cup finely chopped red onion or shallots. Add 1 clove garlic, pressed and sauté for another minute. Add vinegar of your choice or lemon juice and pour over the spinach and toss until wilted. (A general guide to oil-to-vinegar ratio is 2 or 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar.)

Enjoy!

— Charles Price

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