Cider generally makes me think of two things. Firstly, pork. I can’t think of a more failsafe way to cook pork than with plenty of cider. Secondly, underage drinking. I abstained from cider drinking for nearly a decade after I drank about two litres of it when I was 13.
I had my first snog with the only human present, a female friend, and then passed out on my mum’s lap. I was so ashamed, not only did the mere smell of cider make my stomach turn for years afterwards, but I also lost touch with my bestie. It was an early baptism into the dangers of drink, which unfortunately did not inhibit me from trying Tuaca.
But I digress. That was years ago, and now, thankfully, I can enjoy cider in sensible quantities and without becoming experimental. Funnily enough, I tend to play it safe. I like to cook Delia’s pork braised in cider vinegar sauce, a favourite of my mum that we ate often at home. So simple to make, it was also one of the first dishes I cooked for friends after I moved out, and to much applause. It must have been some relief to find out that combining cider with pork shoulder, vinegar, shallots and creme fraiche, can reverse any tendency I once had towards nausea.
More recently – and this may be related to the fact I wrestled with six whole rolled pork shoulders at my wedding – I have been more inclined to buy alternative cuts. About a month ago I bought a slab of pork belly, put it in a casserole on a bed of shallots, bay, thyme and celeriac, poured in a good lot of dry cider and left it to cook for 6-7 hours in a low oven (about 150c). About half an hour before serving I took the meat out, cut off the rind and blasted it under a good heat (200c) for 15 minutes or so to make puffy crackling. While the meat rested, I heated the juices, shallots and things with a can of flageolet beans and stirred in a little creme fraiche. The meal fed us for three nights, and was particularly special served with a mixture of broad beans, leeks and spinach sautéed in butter.
On Easter Sunday, taking inspiration from this recipe, I roasted a pork rack over a bed of halved apples, banana shallots and bay leaves. When the pork was cooked (I cooked ours at 220c for 15 mins then for 1 hour 45 mins at 180c) I crushed the roasted apples to make apple sauce and made a gravy by reducing the shallots and meat juices with 1 tsp English mustard powder and a splash of dry cider. Served with red cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli, carrots and roasties; it made a very fine meal indeed, but I can’t help but feel a bit stuck in a rut.
How do you cook pork in cider? I’d be grateful for the inspiration, so if you have any variations on this theme, please share in the comments.