Pork and apples are a classic combination. Why not cook them together to give the pork a nice apple-y punch? Plan ahead – this roast needs to “cure” for 18-24 hours before cooking. Rubbing the meat with a brown sugar and salt mixture and refrigerating overnight seasons the meat and keeps it juicy. Pork butt roasts have a lot of fat and connective tissue that breaks down over the long cooking time and results in tender, silky meat. Bone-in roasts usually have the fat cap left on which will make a beautiful presentation. Turn the flavorful braising liquid into a silky sauce with a cornstarch slurry and serve with some creamy, buttery mashed potatoes or celery root purée for the ultimate fall dinner.
Cider-Braised Pork Butt Roast with Apples
- 4-5 pounds pork butt roast, bone in with fat cap
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, quartered and thinly sliced
- ½ large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 cups apple cider (be sure to use unsweetened cider)
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 5 sage leaves, left whole
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 whole cinnamon stick
- 2 apples that will hold their shape after cooking (Braeburn is a good choice)
- 1½ tablespoons cornstarch for slurry
- Eighteen to 24 hours before cooking, combine brown sugar and kosher salt and set aside. Trim fat cap, if necessary, leaving about 1/8”. Using a sharp knife, cut 1” crosshatch pattern, 1/16” deep, in the fat cap. Place roast on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Rub the sugar/salt mixture over the entire roast and into slits. Wrap tightly in double layer of plastic wrap, place on a plate and refrigerate for 18-24 hours.
- Heat the oven to 275° convection. Unwrap the roast and pat dry with paper towels, brushing away any excess sugar/salt mixture. Season with black pepper.
- Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven (or other oven proof pot with lid) over medium high heat. Sear roast until browned on all sides.
- Remove roast and add onion, fennel, and garlic to pot. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or more until onion becomes translucent.
- Add mustard, cider, chicken stock, vinegar, thyme, bay leaves and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil.
- Return meat to pan and return to simmering. Cover, transfer to oven and braise until meat is very tender, about 3 hours. Meat should register 195 to 200° and the bone is loose and can be easily removed.
- Transfer meat to a platter and tent with foil.
- Strain the solids from the braising liquid, pressing on the solids to extract as much flavor as possible. Discard the solids.
- Remove as much fat as possible from the top of the liquid using a fat separator or large spoon. Reserve ¼ cup of liquid in a small bowl for the slurry. Bring braising liquid to a boil on the stove top.
- Remove core from apples, but do not peel them. Cut apples into eighths. Add to the simmering liquid and cook until tender but still holding their shape.
- Make a slurry with 1½ tablespoons of cornstarch and reserved ¼ cup braising liquid. Add to simmering liquid and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning (salt, pepper).
- Slice the meat as best you can. It is so tender you might end of with pieces and not perfect slices. But it will be delicious. Spoon some sauce over the meat and top with the apples. Serve extra sauce on the side to spoon over mashed potatoes for the ultimate fall meal.
The Difference Between Pork Butt and Pork Shoulder
Pork butt and pork shoulder are actually different cuts of meat. Both come from the shoulder of the pig, but pork butt is higher on the foreleg while pork shoulder is farther down. Both benefit from long, slow cooking methods but I generally prefer pork butt. The secret lies in all the fat and collagen in the pork butt meat, which has more marbling than the shoulder. When this material breaks down through the cooking process, the result is tender, juicy, melt in your mouth meat.
Bone in or bone out? From my own experience (there are opposing opinions on this point), it really does not make a noticeable difference. However, the bone can act as a natural thermometer. When it slides out without any effort, your butt is ready. Of course, there are other tests for doneness. The meat should feel fork tender. Or you can use a meat thermometer like my favorite “Thermopen” to test for doneness. When braising pork butt or shoulder, 195 to 200° is your goal. The meat will be cooked thoroughly at 165°, but the collagen does not break down and melt until around 195°. Melting collagen is what makes the meat so incredibly succulent.