We don’t cook pork in our house very often. When we do, it’s typically either a picnic shoulder rubbed with zillion of spices and herbs and slowly roasted or thick cut bone-in chops. It has been a while since I made a good ‘ole pork stew. In fact, I can’t even remember when I did this the last time.
When I was a kid, mom used to make stew quite frequently. She always made it the same way, no matter the meat. She used lots of onions, which lend the stew sweeter flavor, caramel color and thicker sauce. She never used any carrots or celery, and she typically sweated the meat with the onions at once without browning, and that resulted in somewhat soupy consistency. That was amply compensated for by adding lots of quartered potatoes. Extra sauce was dealt with simply by dunking bunches of crusty bread chunks into the bowl. Garlic and bay leaves were added in the very end, just as cooking was almost done. And the stew was cooked on a stove. Among the things mom used to add to the stew to make it fancier were canned peas (meh..) and prunes.
Here in the States, people mostly think of prunes in the context of elderly people trying to aid their digestion. I haven’t been here long enough to figure out the origins of this stereotype, but I can tell you right now that it created a prune-hostile environment in the culinary world. Shame, too, because a few prunes added to a stew, fruit salad, flan, or cake (I have to post those recipes, I know!), can send your dish to a completely different level of gourmet. There is just something very unique about prunes’ elegant smoky sweet and sour flavor, and of course they are excellent color enhancers. When adding prunes to a stew, try to get the unsweetened and unflavored version, so that artificial flavoring doesn’t overpower your dish.
With this stew, I decided to go in the French direction to give it more body, intense color and seal the meat flavor in. Hence, I added bacon chunks, browned the meat, and used wine for the sauce. I also slow cook it in the oven. To celebrate my mom’s style, I added more onions than French version would typically call for, and of course quartered potatoes were added towards the end of the oven cycle.
Here is the What and How, for this batch:
Pork Stew with Prunes
- 4 oz of thick sliced bacon or salt pork, coarsely chopped
- 3-4 lbs shoulder roast pork meat, cubed to 1-1/2″
- 2-3 large onions, coarsely chopped
- 2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
- 3 cups of red wine (or a little more if necessary)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 cloves
- 25 prunes
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
- herbs (rosemary, thyme and parsley preferred)
- 1-2 bay leaves
- salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 4 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
Heat the Dutch over medium flame. Toss in the bacon chunks and saute for a few minutes to render the fat, until beautifully browned. Remove the bacon bits and set aside.
Sprinkle pork cubes liberally with ground pepper and brown on all sides in bacon fat to lock the juices in. Don’t crowd the meat pieces, brown them in batches if needed. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
Toss in carrots and onions and saute for a few minutes. Scrape the bottom of the pot with wooden spatula and stir the scrapings with the vegetables.
Add back the meat and the bacon bits. Add wine, garlic, herbs, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, and prunes. Season to taste, add more black pepper if desire. Bring everything to a boil and remove from heat.
Set the oven at 325°F. Cover the stew with heavy lid and cook for about 2 hours in the middle of the oven.
Remove from oven, discard the herbs and bay leaf. Add potatoes, cover, return to the oven and cook until potatoes are done, for about 30-40 minutes.
Serve with crusty bread.