Cider-Braised Pork Shoulder with Fennel and Apple

CHRISTMAS WITH FRIENDS: Puff Pastry-Wrapped Asparagus; Cider-Braised Pork Shoulder with Fennel and Apple; Fresh Bread; Green Salad; Best Brownies à la mode

Frankly, most holiday main course meats are really, really expensive. Yet having a roast or a ham or a turkey can feel like a requirement, especially if you’re hosting parents or more traditional types. Give up the notion of a big hunk of meat and replace it with this savory, wintry stew, rich with slow-cooked onions and fennel, not to mention our favorite meat: pork.

Of course the least expensive cut of pork is one that can be a little bit, shall we say, unrefined. We’re talking pork butt (or, in polite circles, “shoulder”), which is the stuff of pulled pork tacos, pork bo ssam, and pork burgers.

Although some stews, like chili, are equally down-home, unrefined kind of meals, we’ve had tremendous success with Beer Beef Stew (from our book) and its short-rib cousin at meals with stakes as high as dates. When you load a stew with slowly cooked onions, beef stock, fennel, and even anchovies, you create a wealth of flavor that pretty much amounts to a celebration in your mouth. That then translates to a celebration at the table, roasts and whole turkeys be damned.

Is that solid logic?

To be fair, stews are also prime Sunday night dinner fare all through the winter–weeknight fare, too, if you plan ahead or use a slow cooker.

Just as we were last year, when Phoebe prescribed this Moroccan-inspired chicken stew for elegant (yet quarter-lifey) New Year’s Eve at-home dining, we’re big fans of the stew-as-main-course holiday meal. All you really need is a good loaf of bread, but you can also follow the stew with a crisp green salad, a chocolate-y dessert, and a lot of red wine–or hard cider.

What are you making for Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s dinner?

From my kitchen, wishing you a porky holiday meal, to yours,



Cider-Braised Pork Shoulder with Fennel and Apple
Serves 3-4

Olive oil
1 ½ pounds pork shoulder, cut into 3-inch pieces
Freshly ground pepper
1 large fennel bulb, quartered, trimmed, and cut very thinly*
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1 apple, peeled, cored, and cut into wedges
1 cup apple cider
1 cup water

Note: use a mandoline to slice the fennel if you have one. Reserve the stems and fronds for garnish.

Pat the pork pieces dry with several cloth or paper towels. Season with salt and pepper.

Coat a large Dutch oven with a thin layer of olive oil and brown the pork in batches over high heat, making sure not to crowd the pot. Set aside in a shallow bowl that will catch all the juices.

Turn the heat back down to medium, add the onions and fennel to the pot, and sauté for 10-15 minutes, making sure to scrape up any brown bits left over from browning the pork.

When the vegetables are very soft, but barely brown, add ½ teaspoon salt, the garlic and the apple, season with salt and pepper, and sauté for an additional two minutes until fragrant.

Turn the heat up to high, return the pork and juices back to the pot. Pour the cider and the water over the top and bring to a simmer.

Turn the heat as low as it goes and simmer, covered, for 2 hours, until the meat is fully tender. Taste for seasoning, and serve with fresh bread, mashed potatoes, or egg noodles. Garnish with the fennel fronds.

Posted in: Cooking for Others
  • Ann Mc

    Oh, this is delicious!  Isn’t it amazing how many unwritten rules there are for the holidays?  Since I started blogging I started thinking outside the box when it comes to food….why not change it up?  I have a girlfriend who decided she was making Lasagna this year!  It was what she wanted, it was make-ahead and everyone loved it!  She is a rock star in my book!

  • Mel

    I made this for Christmas Eve dinner and it was an incredible hit. We had to please all types of food preferences and this dish walked away with high praise. Thank you!

    • BGSK

      Mel–thrilled to hear it! There’s something so warming and celebratory about it. 

  • Kelly Davie

    This stew is incredible! Thanks so much for sharing the recipe – it kicked off a frenzy of fennel love. One question, though – by apple cider, do you mean apple cider as in hard apple cider, or apple cider as in that stuff that’s more like apple juice? Thanks :)

    • BGSK

      Actually, I’ve made it with both!

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