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Cider Braised Pork Butt with Apple, Onion, and Grain Mustard

Cider Braised Pork Butt with Apple, Onion, and Grain Mustard

Another easy dish, where the oven does most of the work for you. I served this cider braised pork butt with mashed potatoes and steamed rainbow chard (not visible in the photo because I was overly generous with my mashed potato portion...) The nice thing about this is that, because it cooks for so long, the apple and onion disintegrate into the cider and you end up with a tangy, moreish sauce. Mashed potatoes are definitely the way to go for me, but crusty bread for dunking would work as well, as would the egg noodles served by the creator of this recipe. This is a really lovely autumn dinner party main course.

There is a story behind this particular recipe which I have written about before in a newsletter (and whose text I have reproduced here rather than rewriting it.) My French family-in-law had a truly lovely fall tradition: each October, they would randomly chose a day when the sky was blue and the air was crisp, and set off, when everyone else in France was at work, for their annual visit to the little winery from which they had been buying Champagne for decades. Various Champagnes were tasted over the course of the afternoon, sitting at a long wooden table in the wine cellar, and then -- after much debate -- the annual supply of bubbles was purchased. The trip was made as a caravan, rather than in one car, because the more cars that came on this trip, the more room there was in trunks and back seats for cases of Champagne. The drive from Paris to Champagne is a pretty one and, prior to visiting the winery, we would always end up at the same restaurant for lunch, because -- you know -- "c'est la tradition!"

My mother-in-law (whose favorite person I was not and vice versa), would always get the fish of the day with a frothy Champagne sauce and got very sniffy at lunch the first time I accompanied them on this outing. I ordered the pork façon Normande (Normandy style) because it sounded absolutely delicious. She felt very strongly that this was a major faux pas, geographically incorrect, and very American of me because, when in the Champagne region, one should have a dish with a Champagne-based sauce. I felt very strongly that, if the Chef in the Champagne region had put it on the menu, it was fair game, that it would be remiss of me not to try a dish advertised as the first thing his mother taught him and the reason that he had become a Chef, and that she should mind her own damn business. I then proceeded to order this dish every single year that I went with the family to Epernay until my husband died, partly because it really was so delicious, and partly because...well, you know why.

The original version of the dish consisted of pork shoulder which had been cooked in cider, along with apple chunks and pearl onions, until the meat was tender and practically fell apart when blessed with a fork. The pan juices and cider were then reduced until they formed a sticky syrup of sorts, into which the Chef stirred thick Normandy cream, butter, grain mustard, and a generous glug of Calvados. All this was served over egg noodles and topped with tiny pieces of bacon and freshly made crunchy, buttery mini croûtons. The first time I ate this, I could practically feel my arteries panic and start to seize up when the waiter appeared in the doorway of the dining room with the silver dome covered dish.

Over the years I have simplified the dish, gotten rid of the butter and cream (a smart move when I am serving this with buttery mashed potatoes), removed the garnishes, and substituted diced onion for pearl onions to avoid all that painfully fiddly peeling. I also use Bourbon now rather than Calvados because I have more use for it in my kitchen and tend to have it around. Despite all that, this is still a really delicious dish, and I think that the Chef and his mother would approve of my version of it.

This makes about 8 portions of the stew, which can be frozen for future dinners

1 3 - 3 1/2 lb piece of boneless pork butt (You can also buy cubed pork butt as stew meat, in which case you will need to reduce the cooking time.)

3 tart organic apples, no need to peel them, but cored and cut into small dice

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced

1 1/2 cups apple cider

1 1/2 Tbsps Bourbon

1 heaping Tbsp grain mustard

1 Tbsp olive oil

Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 250.

Salt the piece of meat generously on all sides.

In a large oven safe pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. As soon as it is shimmering, add the piece of meat, fat side down, and brown it until the fat has rendered and the surface is a deep, rich brown. Repeat this on all sides of the meat, keeping in mind that browning these will take less time as there is less fat on the sides.

Remove the meat from the pan and pour off all but a few teaspoons of the fat. Add the onions and apples to the pan and stir to combine.

Pour the Bourbon into the pan and cook for a minute or so to cook off some of the alcohol. Stir up from the bottom of the pan to make sure that any brown bits stuck there from browning the pork, get incorporated into the sauce for added flavor.

Place the meat back in the pan, this time fat side up, clearing a space for it to nestle among the apple and onion. Add the cider, cover the pan, and place it in the oven. Let cook for six hours while you go about your business.

When you are ready to eat, gingerly remove the meat, which will be very tender, from the pan. Stir the grain mustard into the sauce and check for seasoning. I like the sauce as is, which is rather brothy, but if you want a thicker sauce, place the pan back on the hob over medium-high heat and let the sauce boil away until it has reduced by about half and is thick and shiny.

I use any remaining sauce as the base for baked beans, in place of the required cup of stock.


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