I use multiple varieties and physical states of apples to great effect in this suite of recipes. Applewood smoke, stewed apples, apple cider vinegar, aged apple brandy, and caramelized apples all combine for a philosophical cohesion. I live between the self-proclaimed apple capital of the world and the largest apple producing area in Washington State—you’d think these would be one in the same, but apparently they’re not. Needless to say, I’m surrounded by apples. The alleys are full of windfall ripe for the picking. Apples and pork are a wonderful match. I love to eat this pork on sesame or poppy seed-topped challah buns (I use Jeffrey Hamelman’s recipe from his book Bread and scale them at 70g for sliders or 100g for sandwiches dividing up 2kg of dough). Make this into a meal with my NW apple coleslaw for the sweet, fresh counterpoint needed to balance the unctuous meatiness. This is a great way to feed a crowd both due to volume and the food cost being $1-2 per serving. I catered a wedding reception for 75 people with a similar recipe and received great acclaim.
The meat’s two cooking stages simplify the process in some respects by maximizing the flavor benefits of the smoker but finishing the cooking in the forgiving, hands-off realm of slow-cooking that also keeps the meat juicy. I like to perform the final braise in a Dutch oven on an induction burner since I can really control and apply heat at the end to reduce juices if necessary, but a crock pot works very well. This long-cooking recipe is flexible in that it can be ready anywhere from 8 to 24 hours after starting depending on how the meat and heat are handled for the braise. Cut the meat into smaller pieces after smoking and use higher heat for the 8 hour finish, or let it coast untouched on low heat for up to a 24 hour finish. It’s certainly possible to speed up the braise by using an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, but I haven’t done it and don’t have suggestions for technique. Reducing the liquid at the end might be a challenge in such a device. If you don’t have a smoker, you can get 70% of the way there by just searing and braising plus adding more smoked paprika and a little liquid smoke but it won’t be the same. Wash down with cider, eat with apple slaw, and follow with apple cake! Yum!
The caramelized apple and onion barbecue sauce is deeply flavored, and relatively fast to make for what it is. I utilize a few tricks in this recipe as gleaned from J. Kenji López-Alt’s quick French onion soup in his Food Lab book--namely, the speedy caramelization through the use of baking soda and repeatedly browning and deglazing over medium-high heat. The end result is thick due to the apple pectin. I serve it on the side and mix a little into the finished meat.