- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 19, 2004

I love to cook and entertain with friends, so when one called to suggest that we plan a small dinner party together, I jumped at the chance.

My friend volunteered to host the supper at her home (music to my ears because it meant I didn’t have to clean house) and asked if I had any menu suggestions.

I immediately thought of a delicious entree I had created, and I proposed we use it to anchor the meal. The dish that came to mind was cider-braised pork chops with apples and prunes. Redolent of fall and easily prepared in advance, the chops would, we agreed, make an ideal centerpiece for our gathering.

Because today’s pork contains less fat than in the past, it can be dry when sauteed. Braising it slowly in liquid will keep the meat moist and flavorful. I used thick bone-in chops, rubbed them with an aromatic blend of herbs and browned them in a skillet. I then poured cider and white wine into the pan and cooked the pork an hour until tender.

Next, I added prunes along with mustard and brown sugar, and I simmered the meat and fruit several minutes until the prunes had softened and the sauce thickened. As a final garnish, apple slices were quickly sauteed and added to the pork.

My co-chef couldn’t decide what sides to prepare. Polenta, mashed potatoes and wild rice were all good possibilities. She finally picked rice pilaf. Glazed carrots and a mixed-greens salad rounded out the accompaniments.

The night of our dinner, there was a crisp, cool autumn chill in the air that seemed to whet everyone’s appetite. The beautiful pork and apples were warm and comforting, definitely the right choice for our communal supper.

Cider-braised pork chops with apples and prunes

1½ tablespoons dried rosemary, crushed

1 tablespoon dried sage leaves

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

6 bone-in center-cut pork chops, cut 11/4-inch thick and trimmed of excess fat (33/4 pounds total weight)

1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil, plus more if needed

4 cups cider

1½ cups dry white wine

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 cup pitted prunes (20 to 24 prunes)

2 medium Golden Delicious apples, cleaned but not peeled

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 sage or rosemary sprigs for garnish, optional

In a small bowl, mix together rosemary, sage, salt and pepper. Pat pork dry with paper towel, then rub both sides of each chop generously with herb seasoning.

Over medium-high heat, warm 1/4 cup oil until hot in an 11- to 12-inch heavy skillet with a lid. Brown chops well, 4 to 5 minutes per side, adding more oil if needed. Using tongs or forks, turn chops on their edges and brown. Remove pork to a plate, and carefully pour off and discard all fat in the pan.

Pour cider and wine into pan, averting your face. The liquids will steam up and then settle down. Whisk any drippings in the pan into the liquids.

Return chops to pan, lower heat to a gentle simmer and cover. Cook an hour or until meat is tender when pierced with a fork.

Whisk in brown sugar and mustard until dissolved. Then add prunes and cook until softened, 12 to 15 minutes. Watch carefully so that prunes do not overcook and liquids do not evaporate. (Pork chops can be prepared 2 days ahead to this point. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat over medium-low heat, turning chops and stirring prunes, several minutes.)

When you are ready to serve, core but do not peel the apples. Halve them lengthwise.

Cut each half into ½-inch-thick wedges. Melt butter in a medium skillet, and, when hot, saute apples in it until golden and slightly softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add to pork.

Serve pork chops mounded with apples and prunes and drizzled with sauce. Garnish each serving with a sage or rosemary sprig, if desired. Makes 6 servings.


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