It’s Thanksgiving week here in the US. I like to take this week, not only to plan the menu and shop for the big meal, but also to tackle all my fall cleaning tasks. Replacing old blinds and washing the curtains, polishing the furniture and the silverware, scrubbing the baseboards and cleaning the ceilings in the bathrooms, changing the linens from summer to winter – it all makes the house feel cozy, bright and ready for a stream of holiday guests. Maybe it’s weird, but I absolutely love fall cleaning, even more than spring cleaning. There’s something so completely satisfying in making the dull and dingy shine again. For Christmas one year I was given a book called, Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, and it’s still one of my favourite books today. It’s like a cookbook, but with instructions on how to properly clean anything and everything in your home.
Over the weekend I began sorting through the pantry and clearing out the fridge. I’m cooking two turkeys this year – dry-brining both of them with herbs, lemon and sea salt – so I need all the fridge space I can get! The sides and champagne have to fit in there, too, of course! In doing so, I came to the funny realization that I’m the kind of person who never likes to finish a bottle of anything – especially when it comes to artisan vinegars, oils or liqueur and spirits – I’m a last drop hoarder! I know this is totally ridiculous, and I have to tell myself, “It’s okay, you can always buy more.” Consequently, I had a bottle of Calvados with only a few ounces left in the bottom and a jar of apple cider vinegar from a local orchard with just two tablespoons left. I also found some apples that desperately needed to be used and a couple lonely potatoes. All of this made up our Saturday lunch.
This recipe is so old-fashioned and nostalgic. It reminds me of long Sunday lunches in the warmth of my grandmother’s kitchen. She had an affinity for the flavours and dishes of Normandy, and she’d regale us with tales of her childhood summers spent there among the orchards and in the pastures with, what she described as, “the most beautiful cows in the world.” These were the same stories, repeated over and over, as if she’d forgotten that she’d already told us. But with each retelling her eyes would become misty, with a sort of faraway glow, as if she were looking straight through the veil of time – and I was enthralled. She especially loved cooking with apples. Apple cider, apple vinegar, apple brandy – they’re all in here, and the sauce is finished with the richest crème fraîche. I served the pork with garlic mashed potatoes. My trick is to add several whole, peeled cloves of garlic to the water while I’m boiling the potatoes. Then I drain them and mash them all together, stir in a few tablespoons of butter, a dollop of crème fraîche and enough milk to bring it all together. Season well with salt and pepper for the best mashed potatoes ever.
Normandy Pork with Apples
2 TBSP butter, divided
1 TBSP olive oil
3 lb pork loin roast
3 large shallots, sliced
1/8 cup Calvados, or apple brandy
4 large apples, cored and cut into quarters
3/4 cup apple cider
3/4 cup chicken broth
4 – 5 fresh thyme sprigs
2 TBSP apple cider vineger
1/2 cup crème fraîche
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 300 F (150 C).
In a large Dutch oven, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter with the olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the pork well with salt and pepper. Place in the pan and sear on all sides until deeply golden.
Remove the pork to a plate and drain the oil from the pan. Turn the heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of butter. Cook the shallots in the butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the calvados, scraping the bottom to deglaze the pan. (Be careful, the alcohol could flare up if the pan is too hot.) Place back on the heat and bring to a simmer. Add the pork back to the pan. Scatter the apples around the pork.
Mix together the apple cider and chicken broth and pour over the apples and pork. Scatter the thyme sprigs in the pan (no need to remove the leaves from the branches – they will fall off while cooking and, at the end, you can simple pull out the bare branches.) Bring to a simmer.
Cover tightly with the lid and place in the oven. Roast in the oven for 2.5 to 3 hours until the pork is very tender.
Remove the pork and apples to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Bring the sauce in the pot to a boil over medium heat and cook until the sauce is slightly reduced. Add the vinegar. Remove the thyme sprigs. Stir the crème fraîche into the sauce until incorporated. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.
Slice the pork and pour the sauce over top. Serve the remaining sauce at the table.