When people refer to French cookery, they don’t mean a list of complex ingredients or fiddly, time-consuming recipes. They’re actually referencing a way of cooking. French cuisine is a methodology; a time-honoured discipline, designed to bring the best out of ingredients. When the French refer to the ‘art of cookery’; art in French means type or style. The ‘French-style’ requires the mastery of a few basic techniques which, once learnt; will deliver consistently outstanding results.
One of these competencies is the classic French method of cooking meat. There’s a stately ritualism to this process, which is almost comforting in its cadences. The succulent sealing-in & caramelisation of the meat is followed by the slow softening of shallots & garlic; then deglazing the pan with a magnificent whooshing ‘sigh’, as wine hits the thirsty metal-surface of the pan. As the kitchen fills with the delicious aroma of melting butter, fresh herbs and pan-seared meats, you’ll begin to feel like an alchemist creating pure gold from the very simplest of ingredients. It is truly an art worth learning!
This dish calls on the heady Normandy digestif calvados to bring out the sweetness of the pork and deliver depth to the sauce. Apples may be off the list on a low-carb diet, but a good glug of calvados reduced down in the pan certainly won’t impact the blood-sugar. This dish pays tribute to the classic affinity between pork and apple, that’s enchanted the taste-buds for hundreds of years past. What could be more welcoming on a cold Autumn’s evening that this?
Bring your pork to room-temperature and season well both sides. Heat a metal-lined sauté-pan on the hob (non-stick doesn’t deglaze with pleasing results) and throw in a knob of salted butter followed by a dash of oil. The sizzle should be a rewarding sensation in itself, as should the aroma. Add your pork to the pan and seal on each side until it’s golden brown and deliciously caramelised. You must excuse me for constantly repeating myself, but it needs to be said…! Do not fuss around with the meat in the pan or move it until it’s good and ready. No-one likes to be mothered; why do it to your dinner?! When the pork is ready to be turned, it will release itself of its own accord in response to the merest touch with finger or wooden-spoon. If it sticks, it’s not ready. We want the meat to caramelise and brown; not steam! And do not crowd it in the pan or the same will happen!
Once the meat is beautifully golden on each side, lift out of the pan and tip in sliced shallots, leek & chopped garlic. Soften these until translucent and just starting to brown, then crank up the heat as high as you can. This is not some obscure act of retribution, you simply want the pan to be as hot as possible for when you pour in the spirits. That way, you’ll deglaze with the maximum effectiveness, lifting all the caramelised flavours straight off the bottom of the pan. Once it’s good and hot pour in your measure of calvados, making sure to stand over the pan and enjoy the cloud of sweet, alcoholic steam which billows beautifully out into the kitchen! Once the liquid has all but evaporated, pour in a 3/4 inch depth of chicken stock (or water and stock cubes) and place your pork back into the pan, ensuring it’s surface is not submerged. Dissolve a small teaspoon of Dijon mustard into the pan and add a bay-leaf or two for warmth. Reduce this down for 20 minutes until the sauce is barely lapping the top of the vegetables then stir in a good handful of chopped parsley.
Whilst the sauce is reducing, thinly shred your cabbage and give it a good rinse. Add butter to a fresh pan and briefly sauté crushed garlic until soft but not brown. Place the cabbage into the pan, retaining what little water is clinging to the leaves after rinsing. Season, then fit the lid on firmly. Steam for three to five minutes, then spoon into your pre-warmed serving-dish.
Arrange your pork atop the cabbage, then test the sauce for seasoning. There are two schools of thought on this dish – cream or no cream. I have not added it, as I like the sauce to retain the clean taste of apples. If you like however, add a swirl of double cream at the final stage of cooking. This adds richness and the luxurious touch of velvet. It is entirely a matter of preference and a decision I leave completely up to you. Give it a go both ways and get back to me with your results.
Whichever way you’ve chosen to finish your sauce, pour this liberally over the pork and cabbage, then garnish with a final flourish of chopped parsley. Classical comfort food at its best! The results certainly won’t disappoint.
Thanks for reading and bon ap!