Apfelfest 2013: Chops, Cabbage, and Riesling

Apples, apples everywhere.

A big bag, three weeks running.

On Saturday night, apples were in everything. In the cider brine. Smothering the pork. Braising with the cabbage. And echoing through the wine.

Hello, Oktober.

Cider-brined pork chops, braised red cabbage, mashed potatoes. Gemütlichkeit.

Cider-brined pork chops with apples and onions

Adapted from a recipe I clipped out of Bon Appetit back in 1999. I’ve changed the pan sauce up a bunch over the years, but the brine’s been a constant. I generally go for thick, center-cut chops, but I’ve used it with tenderloins and smaller roasts, too – whether grilled, pan-fried, or seared and finished in the oven. Gemütlichkeit

For the brine

  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp fresh sage leaves, sliced thin
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp spicy mustard (I used Whole Foods’ German Mustard)
  • 2 thick-cut pork chops, trimmed of excess fat

Whisk all ingredients (except the chops, obviously) together in a large bowl until the sugar and salt completely dissolve. Be patient, this may take a few minutes.

Put the pork in a shallow glass dish with a lid (or in a plastic, zip-top bag), and pour the brine over it. Ideally, the liquid covers the pork. If not, add a little more water – or know that you’ll need to revisit a few times to give the container a shake.

Refrigerate, covered, for at least 4 hours. A whole day is better, and I’ve gone as long as 30 hours.

For the pork

  • 1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large, crisp apple, thinly sliced (there were Honey Crisps in the CSA last week)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • a shot or two of Calvados or other brandy (white wine will do in a pinch)
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tsp of spicy mustard
  • olive oil

Preheat oven to 400º.

Remove the pork from the brine and pat dry with a paper towel.

Coat the bottom of a heavy, oven-safe skillet with the oil and bring it to shimmering over high heat. Add the pork and sear for about 3 minutes, until you get a nice, brown crust. Flip the meat over, and put the the pan into the oven.

Using a meat thermometer, begin checking for doneness after about 8 minutes. You’re shooting for an internal temperature of 150º, which, after a few more minutes in the pan later on, should leave the chops faintly, beautifully pink in the center. Remove the pork to a plate, cover with foil, and get to work on the pan sauce.

Move the skillet to a medium burner (for heaven’s sake, be careful of the handle), and pour in the Calvados to deglaze the pan. Be sure to scape up all the crusty, brown bits. Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Add the cider, and cook for about 3 minutes more.

Cider-brined chops
This pan sauce is killer: apple brandy, cider, cream, ginger, and mustard.

Now add the apples, ginger, mustard, and cream. Bring everything to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 3-4 minutes, until it all thickens nicely. Return the pork to the pan, cover, and cook for 3 final minutes. Remove the chops. Taste and adjust the sauce’s seasonings.

Serve over mashed potatoes, with plenty of sauce spooned atop.

And try this easy, slow-cooker braised cabbage alongside.

Cabbage ribbons
The hardest part is chopping the cabbage—and that ain’t hard at all.

Slow-cooker red cabbage

  • 1/2 large head of red cabbage, sliced thin
  • 1/2 large onion, sliced thin
  • 1 medium crisp apple, sliced thin
  • 2 tbsp spicy mustard
  • 1 tbsp raw sugar
  • 2 big pinches kosher salt
  • 5-6 grinds of black pepper
  • 1 cup dark beer
  • 3/4 cup apple cider
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water

Toss the cabbage, onion, and apple together in a bowl, then load it into a slow cooker.

Back in the bowl, whisk together everything else.

Pour the liquid into the cooker. Cover, set it to low, and forget about it for at least 6 hours. Mine went for 10 while I was at work Saturday, and it was perfect.

Slow-cooker braised red cabbage
Set it and forget it.

What to drink?

Something German, das stimmt. Stay with the Oktober theme and pour yourself a Märzen-style festbier (this season, I’m especially loving Victory’s version, and Stoudt’s is a perennial favorite, not least because they throw a great fest at the brewery that gives me an excuse to wear my dirndl and polka in semi-public).

2012 Weingut Keller Riesling—apples, pears, lemon zest, almonds

But Saturday night I went with white wine from the Rheinhessen superstar Klaus-Peter Keller. His stony, 2012 Riesling echoes crisp apples and pears (plus a hint of citrus and almonds), and, like a beautiful piece of fruit, has just enough residual sugar to balance the bright acids. One of the more versatile wines you’ll find anywhere, it’s also perfect with sushi, Indian and Thai curries, smoked fish, grilled fish, poultry, and, well, just a glass.


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