Pork (or Boar) Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

I prepared this stew with boar meat, because boar reminds me of autumn in Europe when it’s the season of la chasse – or hunting season.  Like most game, boar is lean and has a slightly gamey flavor. It benefits from slow cooking and pairs well with powerful aromatics such as juniper, winter fruit and spirits, such as Calvados and Armagnac. If you cannot find boar meat, pork is a good substitute.

Pork (or Boar) Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

Serves 6

20 prunes, pitted
3/4 cup Armagnac brandy
3 pounds pork or boar shoulder, excess fat trimmed, meat cut into 2-inch chunks
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces bacon, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bottle full-bodied red wine
2 bay leaves
1 bouquet garni: 4 juniper berries, 3 rosemary sprigs, 2 thyme sprigs, and a handful of parsley leaves wrapped in cheesecloth and tied with a kitchen string

1. Combine the prunes and Armagnac in a bowl and let stand at least 1 hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
3. Season the pork on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or oven-proof pot with a lid. Add the pork in batches, without overcrowding, and brown on all sides. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remaining pork.
4. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon pork fat from the pan. Add the bacon and sauté until its fat renders. Add the carrots and onion and sauté until the onions soften and the carrots are crisp tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Return the pork and any accumulated juices to the pan. Add the prunes and Armagnac, the wine, bay leaves, bouquet garni, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and transfer to the oven. Cook until the meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
5. Remove the stew from the oven, discard the bay leaves and bouquet garni, and taste for seasoning. Serve warm with mashed potatoes or polenta.
(The stew may be prepared up to two days in advance. Warm over low heat or in a 300 F. oven before serving.) 

Pork Rillettes with Calvados and a recipe for Apple Prune Chutney

Pork Rillettes with Calvados and a recipe for Apple Prune Chutney

 Charcutepalooza Challenge #10: Stretching
Pork Rillettes with Calvados 

These little pots of meaty goodness promise to make right in the world. Rillettes are potted jars and terrines of meat confit, slow cooked in fat, shredded and packed in more fat. Rustic, unctuous and oh-so-rich, a little dab goes a long way. Which is why the process of making rillettes is called “stretching,” which is this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge.

Stretching is an economical and sparing way of making meat last – using all of the last bits and preserving them for later use. It’s a method steeped in conservation and frugality, yet its results are rich and luxurious. It’s the paradox of French country cooking, and it’s why I love it.

Duck, goose and pork are traditional proteins for rillettes. I chose pork and adapted a recipe from WrightFood where the pork is spiced and marinated overnight in Calvados, then slowly cooked in duck fat. Need I say more?

I like to accompany rillettes with fruit chutney. The sweet piquancy of chutney adds a fresh balance to the rich meat. Chutneys are flexible and forgiving. Use a mix of fresh and dried fruit, combined with an acid, such as vinegar or citrus. Sweet and savory with a kick, chutneys are perfect accompaniments to meat and poultry.

Apple Prune Chutney
Makes about 2 cups

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut in 1/4 inch dice
1 large shallot, chopped, about 1/4 cup
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted prunes
1/3 cup currants or raisins
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup Armagnac
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon finely ground juniper berries
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add apples and shallot. Sauté until beginning to soften without browning, 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered until liquid has nearly evaporated, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until use. May be made up to 2 days in advance. (Flavors will develop with time.)

What is Charcutepalooza?
An inspirational idea hatched by Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster and partnering with Food52 and Punk Domestics. It celebrates a Year in Meat, where participating foodies and bloggers will cure, smoke and salt their way through Michael Ruhlman’s bestselling cookbook Charcuterie.

Pear and Prune Crumble with Armagnac Cream

Pear and Prune Crumble with Armagnac Cream

I almost didn’t post this recipe for Pear and Prune Crumble, since there are other similar recipes on TasteFood. Then I gave it some more thought: Crumbles are homey and rustic, easy to prepare and flexible with ingredients. They can be dressed up or simplified and are a surefire crowd pleaser. That’s worth sharing as an example – again.

A year round dessert, the crumble is forgiving. It effortlessly absorbs the season’s best fruit, tossed with some sugar and spice, then crowned with a streusel topping. Its nuance rests in the choice of fruit and spice. Summer begs for berries and stone fruit and a wisp of spice. Fall beckons apples, cranberries and bolder mulling spices. In the winter I prefer the prolific pear. Sturdy and gently perfumed, the pear provides a soft spoken backdrop for the filling, which I like to punctuate with intensely flavored prunes. As the crumble bakes, the prunes break down adding a rich and winey flavor, further amplified by a heady trio of spices – cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg.

To this particular recipe I also added frozen wild blueberries, which  I happened to have in my freezer and wanted to use up (as I said, crumbles are forgiving.) I served this dessert topped with Armagnac Spiked Whipped Cream which adds an appropriately warm and fortifiying kick to a winter crumble.

Pear and Prune Crumble with Hazelnut Streusel and Armagnac Cream

Serves 8-10

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

For the filling:
8 ripe but firm Bartlett pears, cored peeled, cut in 1 inch chunks
20 prunes, pitted and halved
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup frozen wild blueberries (optional)

Armagnac Spiked Whipped Cream (recipe below)

Prepare the topping:
Whisk together all the ingredients except the butter and hazelnuts in a large bowl. Add butter and work into the topping, using your fingertips, until the it resembles coarse meal. Stir in hazelnuts. Cover and refrigerate until use.

Prepare the crumble:
Preheat oven to 375 F. (190 C.) Butter a rectangular baking dish.
Place all of the filling ingredients (except the blueberries) in a large bowl. Toss to combine. Pour into the baking dish. Scatter blueberries over the fruit if using. Spoon the topping evenly over the fruit. Bake in the oven until pears are soft and topping is golden brown, about 50 minutes. Remove and cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature with Armagnac Spiked Whipped Cream.

Armagnac Spiked Whipped Cream
Makes 2 cups (recipe may be halved)

2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Armagnac

Beat cream in bowl of electric mixer with a wire whisk until thickened. Add sugar and armagnac. Continue to beat until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until use. (May be made up to 4 hours in advance.)