'Tis the season for cooking up a hearty meal. At this time of the year, hearty ranges from homemade pasta with a last-of-the-season slow roasted tomato sauce, to soup with hard-won home-grown organic (bug-eaten holes and all) vegetables, or a pan full of roasted root vegetables. And sometimes, that hearty meal is a slow-cooked piece of meat. One that will fall off the bone. One that is savory, succulent, possibly even agro (tart) and dolce (sweet). A dish like this one, this pork that fully embraces autumn, whether plated next to roasted pumpkin and creamy polenta or served atop a roll to help get you through the game sans hunger pangs.
Pear and Sweet Onion Pulled Pork:
serves 6 to 8
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
(1) 3 to 4 pound pork butt (pork shoulder is also fine, just try to get one with as little bone as possible)
freshly ground black pepper
2 medium pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 2-inch cubes (approximately 2-inch cubes - they are a rounded fruit after all)
1 large Vidalia or other sweet onion, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 tablespoon fresh
2 cups apple cider
Though the active time of this recipe is around 30 minutes, the pork does braise for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, so this is most definitely not a weeknight meal. Unless you're somewhat unemployed like me, then you have time to braise away on a Wednesday after you shop at the Farmers Market. However, if you're gainfully employed, it's a good Sunday afternoon dish from which you may then repurpose leftovers during the week.
Remove the pork from the refrigerator about an hour before you plan to cook it. Pat the surface dry with a paper towel, then season the pork all over with salt and pepper.
In a large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid (such as a braiser or Dutch oven), heat the oil over medium-high heat.
Once the oil has a shiny, shimmery appearance, carefully place the pork into the pot to avoid the hot oil splattering back at you. You want to hear the meat sizzle as soon as it hits the pan (as a test to determine whether the oil is ready for browning, you can also drop a breadcrumb or two into the oil to see if it sputters away).
Brown each side of the pork (including the short ends, which I usually do last. They do require a little balancing act with the tongs and a steady, oven-mitted hand holding the pot still), 3 to 5 minutes per side. If the meat doesn't pull off of the pan easily, it's not completely browned. It's nice of the meat and the pot to band together to let us know when we're ready to move on to the next step, isn't it?
After all sides have been browned, reduce the heat to medium. Add the pear cubes and quartered onion (don't worry about breaking the onion layers apart - that'll happen as they cook), then drizzle the honey over the roast, and sprinkle the thyme over the pork, pears, and onions.
Pour in the apple cider, bring the liquid to a gentle simmer (keep an eye on this - if the pot gets too hot, and the cider is percolating away rapidly - say, at near-boiling - the cider will cook off and you'll have a stuck-to-the-bottom pork butt on your hands), cover, and cook, flipping the butt occasionally (also to avoid that sticky situation we just discussed) for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, or until the pork is pulling apart from itself.
Serve the pork forth with the aforementioned creamy polenta, or mashed sweet potatoes, or even the quinoa, squash, and black bean salad recipe from a few weeks ago.
Copyright 2010, Amy McCoy/Poor Girl Gourmet. May not be reprinted without permission