Meat braising season has officially arrived and there are few better bedfellows for this slow-cooking process than cider and pork. True — any alcohol will add to the aromatic and flavor profile, bonding with fat and water molecules, like in a brine, marinade or braise — but cider in particular offers a natural bounty of flavors that intrinsically combine with savory, tender pork create a harmonious dish that surges the palate without being too sweet or spicy.
Chef Tim Stenson of Jordan’s Big 10 Pub in Madison, Wisconsin, enjoys cooking with Island Orchard Cider‘s Brut cider for his braised pork belly dish. “The bold flavor of this cider holds up well against other rich flavors such as the spiced pork belly and pickled vegetables,” explains Stenson. “All of that cider in the braising liquid absorbs the clove, allspice, mustard and pork flavors into itself to form a savory and slightly sweet broth that makes you think of all things autumn.”
For this chosen cider, Island Orchard’s co-proprietor and cidermaker Bob Purman fresh-presses English, French and American cider cultivars from the estate Ellison Bay, Wisconsin, orchard for this blend, available both in the 750ml bottle and on draft, like at Jordan’s Big 10. “I think it goes great with pork dishes because we have a long association of pork and apple together,” Purman says. “It’s also the balance of acidity that stands up to the richness of the brazed pork.”
Test that richness with a few bottles of cider — for cooking and consuming — in this unctuous recipe ready for fall. Note the braised pork belly and pickled vegetables should be done the night before serving.
Cider Braised Pork Belly with Pumpkin Dressing and Pickled Salad
Recipe by Chef Timmy Stenson of Jordan’s Big 10 Pub, Madison, WI
5-pounds skin-on pork belly
1 1/2 bottles (36 ounces) Island Orchard Brut cider
1 cup pickling spices (clove, coriander, allspice, bay leaf, mustard seed, dried chili pepper)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 tablespoons sugar
1 can pumpkin purée
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
Canola or vegetable oil, for frying
Corn starch or flour, for frying
5-6 ounce bag arugula
For the pork belly: Preheat oven to 250° F. Lay pork belly skin side up and, using a sharp knife, score the fat layer of the pork in a cross hatch pattern, being careful not to cut deeply into the flesh. On a seasoned griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat, place the scored belly skin-side down. Fry the belly until the rind is golden brown and bubbly, about 10 minutes. You may need to press down on it or move it around to brown as much as possible.
Place the belly skin-side up in a pan that it can just fit inside of and is deep enough to cover the belly with liquid. Spread the pickling spice, cinnamon stick and brown sugar around the sides of the belly. Pour in cider to cover the top of the belly or when the belly starts to float. With a single piece of aluminum foil, cover the pan as tightly as you can. Place on a middle rack in the oven at 250° F for 3 to 5 hours — you will know it is done when it is tender enough to poke a butter knife through, but not falling apart. Cool belly, in the liquid, overnight. Remove from the liquid and scrape off as much pickling spice as possible. Strain the liquid and reserve it. Cut the belly into one inch cubes and set aside or refrigerate.
For the pickled salad: Place the sliced vegetables in a small bowl, just large enough to hold them. In a mixing bowl, whisk to combine apple cider vinegar, water, 1 tablespoon salt and sugar. Pour the pickling liquid over the vegetables, cover and refrigerate overnight.
For the pumpkin dressing: In a food processor, combine the canned pumpkin, mustard, 1 1/2 cups of reserved braising liquid and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt to taste. Continue to purée and slowly add olive oil until the dressing forms.
To serve: Fill a deep cast iron skillet or heavy bottom frying pan with a quarter-inch of canola or vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Toss the pieces of pork belly in cornstarch or flour. Shake off the excess and gently place each piece in the hot oil. You can place them down any way you wish. Fry for 3 to 5 minutes or until the side is golden brown and slightly crispy. Turn each piece over and fry for another 3 minutes. Drain the pieces on paper towel.
Drain the pickled vegetables and toss them with the arugula. Lay the salad down on a platter and top with crispy pork belly. Drizzle a generous amount of pumpkin dressing over the platter and serve immediately.