When I think of relationships full of wonder, surprise, and satisfaction, one of my very favorites lies on a plate: my fatty little friend, “Porky,” and his sophisticated sidekick, “Pruneaux.”  For those who didn’t catch that, I am referring to the sublime food pairing of pork and prunes.

Since the 13th century, the French have been esteeming prunes as a delicacy when plums from Damascus were brought in to the Southwest region.  I call them the “black jewels of winter” and this recipe highlights how they magnificently complement pork.  While any cut of pork will taste delicious with prunes, not all cuts of pork should be treated equally – they each require different cooking approaches in order to maximize each cut’s potential.  For a rich and hearty dish, ideal for cold weather, I recommend this recipe because it uses pork shoulder, which requires ample braising time to ensure a “fork-tender” end-product.  Once that is achieved, we could say, “braised to glory!”

This recipe is completely attainable. Emphasis should be placed on the careful execution of three key techniques: searing, simmering, and waiting.  I encourage you to stay the course and resist any urge to feel inadequate or to disconnect from this perhaps foreign pork vision.

The captivating relationship between pork and prunes that the French have long savored is now becoming more fully appreciated in the United States.  Don’t squander or discount the opportunity to prepare and/or taste one of life’s finer marriages.  ~Lauren

“Pork and Prunes”

*Inspired by the Southwest Regional Cuisine of France”

3 pounds lean pork shoulder, cubed into 1” pieces

1-2 tablespoons vegetable, canola, or olive oil

2 yellow onions, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

½ cup brandy

½ cup white wine

1 cup fresh apple cider if available (or apple juice)

1 cup low sodium chicken broth (or more as needed)

1-2 bay leaves

1 bag of pitted prunes (8-10 oz)

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Heat a large enameled cast iron pot (6-7 quart size) or large wide and heavy skillet over medium-high heat.
  3. Pat the pork dry by using paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Place oil into pot or pan and begin browning meat all over.  Do not crowd pan.  Brown in batches if needed (may want to clean out pan in between if it’s getting scorched…).   Turn off heat and remove meat to a separate plate.
  5. Return pot/pan to medium high heat and add onions.   Saute them until soft and browned (about 10-15 min).
  6. Add garlic and stir until fragrant.  Do not let it brown.  Add tomato paste and stir, followed by flour and more stirring.
  7. Into pot, pour brandy slowly, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot in order to lift bits of flavor as it is added.  Then pour in wine.  Let wine and brandy mixture come to a boil and then stir in Dijon mustard, followed chicken broth and cider.
  8. Once the “stewing liquid” comes to a simmer and shows signs of thickening slightly, add remaining herbs, prunes, and pork.  Place lid on pork stew and place in the oven for about 2 hours, or more, until meat is tender and melts in your mouth.  (Note: If stew is looking dry and uncovered, add more chicken broth or cider as needed.  Liquid is supposed evaporate in the cooking process, but not so much that meat dries out.)  If using a crock-pot, place pork and prunes inside it and pour the liquid over.  Use the shortest and lowest cooking setting possible.

Serves 8-10