When looking to impress, one often turns to expensive cuts of meat. Tenderloin and filet all require minimal prep and cook up quickly to tender perfection. They hold a bit of cachet around the table, but for all their ease I actually prefer their less expensive counterparts. These often overlooked cuts of meat are tougher, but with a little attention and technique from the cook, they can garner the same praise around the table with, in my opinion, even better flavor.
What’s the trick? Slooooooowwwww cooking. Meats made for braises and stews should never be cooked quickly or over high heat. These cuts come from the parts of an animal that get a lot of work which means they contain connective tissues. Cooked quickly, these tissues make for chewy eating, but cooked low and slow they break down for meltingly-tender bites and a hefty broth that offers a bit of weight in each spoonful.
This time of the year is ideal for trying your hand at a slow cooking method. A simmering pot warms your house and feeds your soul and seems just right as leaves fall and temperatures drop. This stew recipe uses root vegetables, which are in abundance this time of year and, like tougher cuts of meat, often overlooked in favor of more refined produce. Here, however, the sweetness of rustic root vegetables is the perfect complement to the slow-cooked pork and both do well gently simmered in a broth of chicken stock and apple cider.
The broth doesn’t thicken much as it cooks, but could certainly be reduced or thickened with a little cornstarch or arrowroot at the end of cooking (remove the vegetables and meat before thickening using either of these techniques) if that were your preference. I chose to leave my broth thin, but ladled the meat and vegetables and a good portion of broth over some steamed freekah. It made for a hearty meal and added good texture. I recommend serving this stew over some sort of grain; quinoa, brown rice, farro, or barley would all be lovely.
In the interest of simplicity, I added the root vegetables and the browned pork shoulder chunks to the pan at the same time. By the end of the cooking, the vegetables were very tender. If you prefer vegetables with a firmer bite, hold off on adding them until halfway through the cooking process. Happy cooking!
Pork Shoulder and Root Vegetable Stew
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1 1/2 lbs pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into 1/-2-inch thick slices
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small purple or Yukon gold potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small turnip, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups homemade chicken stock or less-sodium store bought stock
1/2 cup apple cider
2 cups chopped mustard greens
For garnish: minced fresh thyme
Pat the pork shoulder cubes dry with a paper towel and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat the canola oil in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven or a 12-inch braisier. Add the pork shoulder, in batches if necessary to avoid over-crowding, and brown for about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the pan and set aside in a small bowl.
Add the yellow onion to the pan and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the vermouth and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Reduce by half.
Return the browned pork shoulder to the pan with the chopped root vegetables.* Add the chicken stock and apple cider and bring to a simmer. Stir in the chopped mustard greens. Cover and simmer gently for 2 hours or until meat is tender. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve over your favorite grain; I like to use freekah, farro, or brown rice. Garnish with fresh thyme.
* For less tender root vegetables, add them halfway through cooking around the one hour mark.