Fall comfort food: slow-cooker cider braised pork with apples and cream

You can do this the easy way, or the hard way.

The easy way really couldn’t be easier – throw some ingredients into a slow cooker, turn it on for a few hours, throw a couple more ingredients in, and boil a pot of egg noodles.

The hard way involves browning the pork first, then braising in the slow cooker, roasting apples separately, and frying up bacon before carefully arranging atop a bed of buttered egg noodles.

Whichever way you choose, this is a fail-proof recipe that uses a few of my favorite fall flavors: apples, pork, mustard, and thyme.  The pork is meltingly tender, and the broth is so good I have been known to drink the remainder out of my bowl.  If you really want to make it easy, try using these slow-cooker liners.  I’ve adapted the recipe from Diane Phillips’ Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever.

Three days ago, it was 80 degrees, and I spent my evening looking at this spectacular view without wearing a coat.

The last two days have been distinctly chilly – autumn finally decided to arrive in San Francisco, and with it comes the occasion for wearing vintage wool coats comfort food.  This dish definitely fits the bill.

 CIDER BRAISED PORK WITH APPLES AND CREAM

6-8 servings

The Easy Way

If you use the easy way, the apples will be very soft, but you will use far fewer dishes.

  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard (I use coarse-grain)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 lb pork shoulder (a cheap cut is fine)
  • 3-4 large sprigs of thyme
  • 1 cup good-quality apple cider
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 4 large apples
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2-3 tbsp butter
  • 1 pound egg noodles

The Hard Way

All ingredients listed, plus:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 8 oz bacon, cut into small pieces
  • Parsley

Directions: Easy

  1. Place pork shoulder into the slow cooker, fat-side up.  Arrange thyme sprigs around it.
  2. Mix together mustard and brown sugar; spread over the top and sides of the pork evenly.
  3. Add beef stock and cider to the slow cooker.  Set on HIGH for three hours.   (Periodically check to ensure the liquid isn’t boiling completely off.  If it is, add up to a cup more of either cider or beef broth.)
  4. At the 3 hour mark, peel, core, and slice the apples into chunks.  Flip the pork roast over in the cooker.  Add the apples to the slow cooker with the heavy cream and set on HIGH for one more hour.
  5. When getting close to the end of cooking time, cook egg noodles according to package instructions, drain, and toss with butter.
  6. After the 4th hour, check to ensure the pork is fork tender.  If it is (and it should be), remove the pork and the thyme stems (the leaves will have separated) from the cooker.  Discard the stems and shred the pork into chunks as large as you prefer.
  7. To serve, layer egg noodles, pork, and apples into a bowl; pour a generous helping of the broth over.  Salt & pepper to taste.

Directions: Hard

  1. Add olive oil to a large skillet and heat to medium-high.  Meanwhile, mix the Dijon and brown sugar together and coat the pork with the mixture.  When the skillet is hot, brown the pork shoulder on all sides (3-4 minutes per side).  Set skillet aside for cooking the bacon later.
  2. Place pork shoulder and pan drippings into the slow cooker.  Add thyme sprigs, cider, and beef stock.
  3. Cook pork on HIGH for 3 hours.  At the 3 hour mark, flip the pork over, add the heavy cream, and cook for another hour on HIGH.
  4. As the pork cooks during its final hour, preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Peel, core, and slice the apples into chunks, then add to a greased ovenproof dish.  Roast the apple chunks on high for 25-35 minutes, remove from oven, and set aside to add to the finished product.
  5. Fry bacon until crisp.  Drain.
  6. Finely chop the parsley.
  7. Prepare pork and serve as directed above, sprinkling the top of each bowl with parsley and bacon.

Me?  I’ll skip browning the pork every time.  It’s a big hassle when the finished product is already delicious without the extra effort.  I’d rather save that effort for BACON, glorious BACON.

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