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Originally published Saturday, October 13, 2012 at 7:00 AM

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Taste of fall in a bottle of hard cider

City Kitchen: With piles of new-crop apples and homemade cider at the greenmarket, a dinner of boneless pork chops served with butter-browned apples seems practically predestined. Recipe: Pork Chops with Apples and Cider

The New York Times

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A few years ago, I spent a month in a tiny village in Normandy. Up the road, past an ancient apple orchard, was a dairy farm run by Monsieur Bernard, a wiry, weathered, hardworking fellow who looked to be in his mid- to late 60s.

It was a really small dairy farm, just 14 cows.

"I used to have a big herd," he told me, "but there's not much business anymore. Everyone around here has moved to town."

Still, he did have a handful of loyal customers, and if you wandered by in the afternoon just after milking time and brought your own jug, he would sell you a liter of still-warm milk for a few centimes. I'm not much of a milk drinker, except for a little in my morning coffee, but I still walked over every day to buy some, and to have a chat.

Each day Monsieur Bernard got a bit friendlier, and by the end of the second week, I found my status had changed from nosy tourist to trusted regular. I received a gift with purchase: a bottle of his homemade hard cider or, as he called it, cidre bouche. The cider was delicious, if a bit rough around the edges. Unfiltered, yeasty, lightly alcoholic and full of apple flavor, it was a far cry from the cloying commercial cider I grew up with.

I soon found that nearly everybody else in the area made cider, too. For in Normandy, aside from dairy cows (and cream and butter and cheese), there is a great abundance of apples. In fact there are two types of apple: cider apples and eating apples, also called dessert apples. Cider apples are generally small, misshapen and ugly, full of tannins and high in acid, but evidently perfect for fermenting. Dessert apples, for baking or eating out of hand, are larger and sweeter.

There is plenty of homemade cider that never leaves the region, but also a large number of estates that specialize in producing fine artisanal cider for export, as well as Calvados, the potent apple brandy distilled from cider.

Cider became my favorite beverage for a while, somehow cleaner-tasting than beer, and certainly lighter than wine. Then, as it sometimes happens, my cider phase receded into memory.

But now, with piles of new-crop apples at the greenmarket and a stand selling local handmade cider, too, dinner seems practically predestined. I'll pan-fry boneless pork chops and serve them with butter-browned apples and a Normandy-style sauce made with cider and cream. And to drink, a chilled bottle of sparkling New York hard cider.

PORK CHOPS WITH APPLES AND CIDER

Time: About 1 hour

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

For the spiced salt:

¼ teaspoon black peppercorns

3 cloves

4 allspice berries

2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh sage

1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt

For the pork and sauce:

6 boneless pork chops, 4 ounces each, about ½-inch thick

2 large apples

2 tablespoons butter

All-purpose flour, for dusting

½ cup hard cider, plus 2 tablespoons

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 ½ cups chicken broth

2 teaspoons potato starch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water

3 tablespoons creme fraiche

1 tablespoon Calvados, apple brandy or cognac, optional

2 tablespoons finely cut chives

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1. Make the spice salt: Put peppercorns, cloves, allspice and sage in a spice mill or mortar and grind to a rough powder. Remove to a bowl and stir in salt. Season pork chops on both sides with salt mixture. (There will be some salt mixture remaining; use it to season the sauce, Step 4.) Cover and leave chops at room temperature to absorb seasonings for at least 30 minutes.

2. Peel, quarter and core apples, then cut each apple into 12 wedges. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a wide skillet and raise heat to medium-high. Add apple wedges in one layer and brown gently on one side, about 2 minutes. Brown on the other side and cook for 2 minutes more, or until apples are cooked through but still firm. Remove apples from pan and keep warm.

3. Add 1 tablespoon butter to pan and swirl to melt. Dust pork chops with flour, and place in pan and brown gently for about 4 minutes per side. Adjust heat if necessary to keep pork from cooking too quickly. Remove chops and keep warm on a platter in a low oven. Discard butter in pan.

4. Add ½ cup cider to pan, raise heat to high and cook down to a syrup. Add mustard and chicken broth, and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add potato starch and stir with a wire whisk as the sauce thickens. Stir in creme fraiche. Season to taste with remaining spiced salt. Add 2 tablespoons cider and the Calvados, if using. Cook for 1 minute more.

5. Spoon sauce over the chops, then spoon the apples around the platter. Sprinkle with chives and parsley.

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