In a braise of glory: There are few more alluring -- and satisfying -- dishes than braises, especially now that there's a little chill in the air.
It will be hard to resist this braised dish with its fork-tender and flavorful, glossy with rich, aromatic sauce.
Cider-braised pork with fennel
Total time: 3 1/2 hours
5- to 5 1/2-pound boneless pork shoulder butt, tied
4 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
Salt to taste
Cracked black pepper to taste
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 leeks, tops removed, cut in half and sliced (about 2 cups sliced)
1 cup diced carrots
2 cups hard cider
2 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
2 fennel bulbs, about 1 pound each
2 tablespoons fennel fronds, chopped
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, toasted and cracked
1 tablespoon fleur de sel
1. Make small slits evenly over the surface of the pork. Insert a sliver of garlic into each slit. Sprinkle salt and cracked black pepper over the roast and rub in.
2. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large enameled iron pan. Add the pork and brown well over medium high heat, turning to brown all sides, about 15 minutes total time. Remove the pork from the pan and keep it warm while cooking the vegetables.
3. Add another tablespoon oil to the pan and saute the leeks and carrots until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Pour the hard cider over the vegetables and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a high simmer and cook until the cider is reduced to 1 cup.
4. Return the pork to the pan. Pour the chicken broth over the meat, stir to combine and cook over high heat until the liquid comes to a boil. Turn off the heat; add the bay leaf. Cover the pot and transfer it to a 325-degree oven. Cook until the pork is meltingly tender, about 3 hours.
5. While the pork is braising, trim the tops from the fennel bulbs and trim the stem ends. Chop about 2 tablespoons fennel fronds for garnish and set aside. Cut the fennel lengthwise into half-inch slices. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet. Add the fennel slices in batches and brown on both sides. Remove the fennel from the skillet; cover and set aside.
6. Add the browned fennel slices to the pork during the last half-hour of cooking.
7. Remove the pot from the oven and carefully lift the fennel slices onto a serving platter. Transfer the pork to a cutting board and let it rest while reducing the sauce.
8. Skim off any fat from the sauce. Place the pot with the sauce over a burner and bring to a boil. Continue to cook until the sauce is reduced to 1 cup. Strain.
9. To serve, slice the meat and arrange it on a platter with the fennel. Spoon sauce over both. Sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds. Combine the toasted fennel seed and fleur de sel and, if desired, sprinkle a pinch over the serving dish. Offer the seed-salt combination to be passed with the braised pork.
Each serving (before sprinkling with salt, seeds): 682 calories; 57 grams protein; 23 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams fiber; 40 grams fat; 12 grams saturated fat; 191 mg. cholesterol; 431 mg. sodium.