WRITTEN BY GREG ATKINSON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ANNE HERMAN
savoring THE APPLE
When autumn's tart orb meets pork, it's sweet surrender
Aunt Terry, who lived beside a graveyard not far from where I grew up, let me cook with her; we baked cookies. Aunt Molly, who lived in Ohio, served a picnic on her living-room floor. Aunt Kathy had a never-ending supply of leftovers, which she pulled from the refrigerator and heated up whenever I walked to her house from my high school a few blocks away. Aunt Sister had a way with vegetables; she served perfect tomatoes with fresh basil and barely perceptible sprinkles of sugar and salt. And Aunt Dolores made all sorts of casseroles with ground beef.
But it was my Aunt Pinky who served applesauce with everything. This baffled me at first. At home, applesauce was reserved for sick days. But her kids, she claimed, would not eat dinner without it. So it was at Aunt Pinky's table that I first experienced the combination of pork and apples. She was serving pork chops, browned in the pan and simmered with cabbage and onions. On the side was the ubiquitous applesauce.
Curious, I tried a spoonful with the pork and suddenly, the whole applesauce thing made sense. The apple's sweetness mirrored the sweet, caramelized juice of the pork, and its tartness provided a welcome foil to the succulent fat.
For me, it was a revelation. But the idea was hardly new. Apples and pork constitute a match made in heaven. The combination probably goes back at least as far as the ancient Romans; Apicius, the author of the oldest cookbook in the Western world, left a recipe for diced apples and pork.
Later in life, as a restaurant chef, I found plenty of opportunities to try apples in savory dishes. I have used them in soups, salads and in various main dishes, but never more successfully than in dishes with pork. This time last year, when I was a guest chef at Four Swallows on Bainbridge Island, I inherited a formula from chef Geraldine Ferraro for Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Apples.
The pork chops, thick rib chops from happy pigs raised on small farms, were brined in a rosemary-scented solution of sugar and salt. The apples, large and profoundly flavorful Honey Crisp apples with a pronounced cider-like scent, were cut into thick slices and browned in the pan beside the chops.
I think it was this recipe more than any other that led me to what I now consider the ultimate combination of pork and apples. The chops, like Ferraro's, spend time in a brine, this one made with apple cider, and instead of apple slices, I serve the pork with winter squash and a chutney made with apples and dried tart cherries.
Greg Atkinson is a contributing editor for Food Arts magazine and a culinary consultant. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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