Sunday, March 3, 2013

Spicy Winter Stew with Pork, Apples and Root Vegetables

Oh my, is it ever cold outside today!  Spring may be heading our way but you would never know it by the temperature outside.  When winter darkens my door, I start to crave warm, spicy, comfort food.  My butcher had some affordable pork shoulder cubes available this week which inspired this dish.  However, you could definitely substitute lamb, veal or even turkey tenderloin in this stew-like braised dish.  Cooking this meal warmed my home and my heart all day and it made the house smell heavenly!  I used the root vegetables I had on hand but you could leave a couple of these out if you don’t prefer them or don’t have access to them, and could add others as you wish.  Think of the recipe as a guidebook and then, go ahead and point with your own palette!

1 ½ lbs. pork stew meat (or alternate protein as per your preference)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
1 medium yellow onion, cut into chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
½ butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
2 apples, cored, and cut into chunks
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
6 sprigs of thyme
1 Tbsp curry powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp cumin seeds or ground cumin
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (omit if you prefer a milder version)
1 cup white wine, beer, or hard cider
1 cup apple cider (not fermented)
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup dried cranberries or golden raisins
1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
cilantro, chopped
zest of one orange

The technique for this dish is really the same as for any stew.  First you season and brown the protein, then you add the aromatics, vegetables and spices, then deglaze the pan with some liquid, and simmer for a good long while.

So, let’s get to it.  First season your pork liberally with salt and pepper.  Allow to rest at room temperature while you chop your garlic, ginger and vegetables.  Heat your oil over medium high heat in a large dutch oven or stockpot and add the cubed stew meat.  Really allow the meat to brown well, turning every few minutes.  If it sticks to the bottom a bit, that is totally fine.  Use tongs to remove the meat and set aside on a large plate.  You can skip this step if you like, but the pan get a bit crowded with the meat and veggies in it and it is a little more challenging to get the vegetables to caramelize the way they should. 

Next, add the onions to the pot first and stir a little.  Now add the carrots and parsnips and allow them to caramelize a little, cooking for about 4 minutes.  Add the butternut squash, apples, ginger, garlic and sprigs of thyme and continue to cook for a few minutes.  Next, add all your spices.  By doing this before you add the liquid, you’ll toast the spices and bring out their best notes.  Now, return your pork and any released juices back to the pan and stir.  Finally, deglaze the pan with the wine, beer or hard cider.  Deglazing is just a fancy word for adding liquid to a dry sauté.  When you do this, you can stir and release all the lovely brown bits form the bottom of the pan, imparting wonderful flavor into the dish.  So, add the alcohol of your choice first and stir to release anything stuck to the bottom.  Then add the fresh (not hard) cider and stir.  Finally, add enough chicken broth to cover all the meat and veggies about 2/3 of the way up.  You can omit the alcohol and double the amount of fresh cider or use apple juice if you prefer.    Now, add in the dried fruit and allow the stew to come to a boil.  Once it does, lower the heat to low and cover, cooking covered over very low heat for 45 minutes to an hour.  Your kitchen will start to smell divine!  Remove the lid and stir once or twice, and then go do something fun for an hour, while you allow the dish to continue simmering over medium-low heat, uncovered, on the stove.  This will allow much of the liquid to evaporate and bring great concentration of flavor and thickness to the remaining “gravy”.  You are almost ready to serve!  If you see the thyme sprigs, remove them.  Most of the flavorful little leaves have made their way into the stew at this point, and you can just fish out the empty “branches” and throw them away.   

Keep the heat at medium or medium low and add the drained and rinsed chick peas, allowing them to simmer in the stew and warm up.  Taste it now and add additional salt and pepper as you desire.  Just before you are ready to serve, top the dish with chopped cilantro to taste, and the zest of one orange.

I served this with simple couscous, which I cooked as directed with one half chicken broth and half water.    I added some golden raisins and toasted pine nuts just before serving.  It was a wonderful, warming meal that my whole family devoured, but it was also exotic and flavorful enough to serve to company.  You could round this out with a simple salad of frissee, radicchio, orange segments and crumbled goat cheese, dressed with just a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and orange juice.  This meal pairs beautifully with an off-dry white wine like a Riesling, Pinot Gris, or Alsacian-style white.  It would also be great with hard cider, or a fruity lager.

This dish offers the warm embrace of home, but also some exotic spices, making it super comforting.  It uses root vegetables which are in season and at peak flavor in the fall and winter months and as a result, offers tons of fiber, and vitamins, and packs a whole lot of flavor with very little fat.  Bon Appetit!

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