Fall is for Comfort Cooking, Pasture-Raised Meats Required

Check out the recipe for Cider Braised Pork at the end of this post.

By Meredith Leigh

The days are beginning to shorten and we are waking up to chilly mornings here in the mountains. It’s one of the best times of year at the farm, with ripening apples, colorful leaves, evening bonfires, and the shift to cooking foods that warm us inside and out. This is the time of year for stews, soups, hearty braised meats, bone broth, and smoked foods, not to mention apples, warm cider, and farm-grown pumpkins.

To fit the season, we are cutting lots of roasts and braising portions in the butcher shop, to set you up for slow cooking. What’s great about fall cooking is not just the coziness and comfort of the foods, but also the fact that slow cooking is what makes the meat from our pastured animals shine. Both flavor and nutrition are boosted in slow cooked meat from livestock raised outdoors, because the animals are free to roam and graze according to their natural instincts, making pastured animals higher activity animals than those raised in confinement. Higher activity muscles demand more blood flow, which means more essential components like fatty acids and amino acids are provided to the muscles to energize and fortify them. This informs the deeper color of our meats compared to conventionally raised animals. It also explains the complexity of flavor, as each of these components in the healthy life of the animal translates to aroma and flavor in the cooking process.

Slow cooking releases these flavor components slowly, and takes full advantage of the healthy fats in the animal to imbue the meat with moisture, and to carry their inherent flavor as you enjoy a hearty stew, or a smoked brisket. To this end, shop for higher activity muscles that favor slow cooking this fall. A few examples are top round London broil, from the leg, or chuck roasts from the shoulder. For lean cuts like this, cooking at low temperatures and prioritizing moisture will produce meat that is fall-apart tender. Cuts with a decent fat cap like bottom round roasts from the outside of the leg, or pork Boston butt, from the top side of the shoulder, can be cooked a bit hotter, however slowly. As the fat melts it will tenderize the meat, and produce nicely moist, sliceable roasts.

Two techniques to master for beautiful cold-weather cooking are brining and braising. Brining in a solution of about 2% salt encourages moisture into cuts of meat that tend to be relatively tougher. Braising is a process of browning the meat with aromatic herbs and vegetables, and then cooking it on a very low flame with a flavorful liquid like stock, cider, or beer. Use the recipe below to test out both of these techniques, and enjoy a perfectly fall-inspired meal featuring our pasture-raised heirloom pork, and our heritage apples from the farm.

Cider braised pork with Garlic, Brown Butter Apples, and Sage

Ingredients:

5 lb. pork roast from the shoulder or the leg
2 medium yellow onions, sliced
1 garlic head
2 leeks OR 2 medium yellow onions
1 small chili pepper, whole
2 stalks celery, sliced
2-3 sprigs of fresh sage, or 3T rubbed, dry sage
1 bay leaf
1 T whole black peppercorn
2-3 cups unfiltered apple cider
3 tart apples, chopped
1-2 t salt, to taste

Process:
  • The day before you plan to cook, determine how much water it will take to cover the pork roast, and then figure 2% of that quantity of water. (For example, if it takes 1 gallon, that’s 128 ounces x 0.02 = 2.56 oz salt.) Stir the salt into the water vigorously to dissolve it. If you need to, warm the water slightly to get the salt to dissolve, then cool the brine completely. Add the cut of pork to the cooled brine, cover and refrigerate.
  • Several hours before you plan to cook, remove the pork from the brine and discard the brine. Pat the meat dry, and then set it on a rack over a baking sheet to drip and further dry. Cover it with a towel to prevent flies or other pests from disturbing it. Allow it to become as dry as possible, and reach room temperature.
    Preheat the oven to 325F. Remove any roots from the garlic head and then slice it in half crosswise. Papers and all. Place a large Dutch oven or ovenproof pot onto the stove top and turn the heat to medium. Add a tablespoon of neutral oil and allow it to warm. When the oil slides easily across the bottom of the pot, place the pork in the pot and brown it well on all sides. (This takes a good 3 minutes per side, at least.)
  • When the meat is brown, remove it and set it aside. Now, add the onions, garlic and celery to the pot with the fat leftover from browning the roast, and allow them to cook, stirring until they are lightly browned. This takes 10-15 minutes. Once the onion, celery and garlic are browned, add in the chili pepper, bay leaf, sage, and black peppercorn. Stir. Now, add salt to taste, place the browned pork roast atop the aromatic herbs and veggies, and pour enough apple cider into the pot so that it comes up about 2 inches around the sides of the meat. Bring to a boil on the stove top, then transfer the pot to the oven, uncovered.
  • Allow the meat to braise for about 30 minutes, then turn it over. Keep turning it over every 20-45 minutes so that it browns evenly as it cooks, and so that you can monitor the process to make sure you have enough cider in the pot. The cider will reduce as you braise, so add more cider as needed to keep the level of liquid about 1.5-2 inches around the sides of the meat.
  • You’ll braise for about 4 hours total, or until the pork falls apart when you touch it with a fork. When that happens, remove the pot from the oven and allow it to rest while you prepare the apples.
  • In a small, hot skillet, brown some butter. Do this by melting the butter and then allowing to heat until the solids turn brown and smell of caramel. Toss in the apples and sauté them in the brown butter until they are just barely softened.
  • Strain the braising liquid, discarding the solids but reserving the liquid If you choose, you can reduce the liquid in a skillet by heating it on the stove top. This will further concentrate its flavor and cause it to thicken. Serve the braised pork over a bed of the brown butter apples. Top with more rubbed sage, and your reduced sauce, if you choose. This dish pairs well with roasted potatoes or other root vegetables, and a salad of fresh tender greens.
meredith leigh

About the Author

Over the past 20 years, Meredith has worked as a farmer, butcher, chef, teacher, non-profit executive director, and writer, all in pursuit of good food. She is the author of  The Ethical Meat Handbook: A Complete Guide to Home Butchery, Charcuterie, and Cooking for the Conscious Omnivore, and Pure Charcuterie: The Craft & Poetry of Curing Meats at Home. Meredith travels teaching charcuterie and food production and processing, consulting for farmer and food businesses, editing, and providing marketing assistance for values-driven business. She lives with her partner and four children in Asheville, NC. Learn more about Meredith Leigh.