Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cider braised pork shoulder with greens and polenta

I made this dish a couple weeks ago and haven't gotten around to posting it since Abby and I have been pretty busy. Now we're back in Washington state for Christmas and I have a bit of down time before I start making Christmas eve dinner, which will be based on this meal.

A meal like this is great for several reasons during this fall/winter season. Most importantly, it tastes really great and is easy to make. Second, braised dishes and stews just seem more appropriate when the weather is cold. And, third, it uses really cheap ingredients, which is always a plus if you are trying to stretch your dollars. This last point should come as no surprise. A lot of the best home cooking was developed to make the best out of cheap ingredients. Here, I use a cut of pork that you can find for $2/pound at most places, greens, which are fairly cheap, and polenta, which is just corn meal. Again, very cheap stuff. All of the components of the dish keep really well too, so you can economize on both time and money, making a big batch of food one day and stretching it out over a couple of meals. The pork actually gets better the next day, and you can reheat it in the braising liquid and serve it the same way, or you can shred it and make a sandwich out of it. For the left over polenta, the best thing to do is spread it out in a layer (about 1/2 thick) on a nonstick surface (a baking sheet or frying pan will do) and let it set. Once the polenta is firm, you can cut it into smaller pieces and store it in the fridge. Reheat it with a little oil using a grill pan or nonstick frying pan. These polenta cakes make a nice snack, and are great with the leftover pork.

Here's the recipe for the pork.

Pork shoulder or pork butt (~3 lb)
1 onion
Apple cider
Chicken broth/stock
a few sprigs of thyme
2 T cider vinegar
1 head garlic
2 bay leaves
1 T peppercorns
2 t fennel seeds
1 t mustard seeds
4 T demi glace
1 carrot

Start by covering the pork with salt and pepper and browning on all sides over medium high heat. This should take about 6-8 minutes per side. If the oil begins to smoke, turn the heat down a little.
Remove the pork and cook the chopped onion, carrot, and crushed garlic cloves over medium heat for about 5-10 minutes. Add all the other ingredients and bring to a boil. Add the cider and chicken stock in a 2 to 1 ratio until the liquid comes about halfway up the pork. Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the pork.
Cover and simmer over low heat for a couple of hours. I would give it 2 to 3 hours, but as long as the heat is low, you probably can't over cook this. After 2 or 3 hours, remove the pork, strain the liquid into a fat seperator and return the reserved liquid to the pot. Reduce by half over high heat. Return the pork to the liquid and continue simmering, covered, until you are ready for dinner. Serve over a bed of polenta with braised greens.