cider-braised pork shoulder with caramelized onions

brown food ain't pretty, but it sure tastes good

Perhaps because I wasn’t reared in the culture of pork eating, I am at odds with the animal. It’s not like I didn’t have pork growing up – I remember slivers of lardo and slices of speck, and an occasional pork loin, slow-cooked, studded with garlic cloves and bay leaves. There might have been a cutlet or two in there somewhere. But pork, at least in my memory, wasn’t a staple in our household in Russia, and became almost non-existent the minute we landed in America. My father, for reasons he still can’t furnish, considers pork to be somehow less kosher (or more unkosher, to be exact) than other tref foods. His ruling was final – pork was out – and so it didn’t enter our house unless my mom and I snuck some in, mostly in the form of bacon.

flying pigs, who else?

And so, based on this history, I’m really weird when it comes to pork. Really, oddly, inexplicably weird. First of all – we must exclude bacon from the pork umbrella. Bacon is special and is a food group in and of itself. So is speck and lardo and other cured meats like prosciutto. But other stuff is fair game. Pulled pork sandwich? Yes, please! I’ll take seconds too! Pork chop? No, thanks. Pass. Yawn. Pork cutlet? Pass, again. How about an apple-cider braised pork shoulder? Um, here’s my plate, please pile some meat on it! Confused yet?

browning caramelizing the onions

I guess it’s all about texture for me. Slow-roasting and braising slowly wears the meat down, so that the tough, chewy texture yields itself to something soft, nearly melting, falling off the bone. And I also prefer fattier cuts of meat: chicken drumsticks over chicken breast. I always remember what my grandmother would say to me while she cooked – that we must cook with patience. And though I think she was implying about patiently learning and perfecting the craft, her words make sense here too.

in everything goes

Giving meat time to realize itself, if you will, while coaxing it into a gentle state, requires low heat, time, and patience. I look at it as a golden opportunity to do something else in the meantime, like read a book, clean the apartment, or watch a movie. The hands-on time is minimal because if you just let the heat, the braising liquid, and the aromatics do their work, they make good friends with the pork shoulder – and the whole definitely becomes greater than the sum of its parts. This was a treat for us one fall day when temperatures turned unusually blustery and we pulled out sweaters and cords. We took a walk before breakfast, and upon coming home, settled into our now-comfortable and comforting Sunday routine. Andrew – at the computer, writing his weekly column, and me in the kitchen, fixing our Sunday supper.

hello, dahling! Pork Braised in Apple Cider with Caramelized Onions

And though Andrew grew up with similarly pork-limited household and has the same reservations (and passions) as I do about the meat, he had no problems with this pork shoulder. The trick was to cook it slow and steady. I dropped the heat to 300 from the suggested 325 and cooked a half hour longer. The result was meat that fell apart as soon as I tried to slice it onto our plates. It made for an ugly looking dish, but one that we still devoured in a heartbeat. The cider cooked down, and along with caramelized onions, which, in the process, melted into the braising liquid, infused the pork with the most unadulterated taste of fall. I can most definitely get used to pork like this – no reservations.

Cider-Braised Pork Shoulder with Caramelized Onions
Adapted from Gourmet

1 (3- to 4-lb) bone-in fresh pork shoulder half (preferably arm picnic) [I’ve used shoulder in the past, but decided on a shank this time – came out amazing!]
2 garlic cloves, cut into slivers
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 lb onions (5 or 6 medium), halved lengthwise, then cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
3/4 cup unfiltered apple cider


Preheat oven to 300°F.

Score fat and any skin on pork in a crosshatch pattern – making x’s in the meat with a paring knife. Cut slits all over meat with a small sharp knife and place a garlic sliver into each slit. Pat the shoulder dry and season liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper.

In a 4-5 quart oven-proof heavy pot (such as this) heat oil medium-high heat until hot. Make sure the oil doesn’t smoke but will sizzle when you place the pork should in the pot. Brown meat on all sides, turning occasionally for about 8 minutes. Transfer pork to a plate and set aside.

Next, add your onions to the pot. Cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, the onions grow soft and golden. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and continue to cook another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden and caramelized.

Add cider to the pot, and place the pork back in the pot.

Cover pot with a tight-fitting lid and braise pork in middle of oven until very tender about 3 – 3 1/2 hours.

Transfer pork to a serving dish. Reduce your braising liquid by boiling the cooking juices for about 5 minutes, or until reduced to about 2 cups. Season with additional salt and pepper, if desired, and serve alongside pork.

Serves 4.


  • jessica

    i made this a few weeks ago only i upped the cider to 4 cups and after the pork was cooked, pulled it out and reduced the cider/onion mixture down by about half. shredded the pork and added it back in. basically making a fall version of pulled pork. served over a butternut squash puree, it was amazing. hmm…now i am going to have to make it again this weekend.

  • Veggie Virginia

    This looks like something the Texan would enjoy, but I seem to have missed something. It looks like there are carrots and potatoes in the picture. Were these prepared separately?
    Thanks for all the great recipes!

  • danielle

    your rules about pork sound almost exactly identical to mine — except my jewish father loves all kinds of pork and will cook any of it.

    do you hate ham, too?

  • Radish

    Virginia – I cooked those separately at the end, I thew them in to cook in the sauce, but that’s not necessary. I just didn’t have room for a separate roasting rack in my oven.

    Danielle – not a ham person at all. :)

  • Mary

    I agree whole-heartedly with Jenny B. I just didn’t know how to put it into words. You truly have a gift that other food writers don’t have. Thank you so much for sharing your love of food, cooking , and life with us. My day always starts with a smile when there’s an e-mail from you in my in-box.
    ( P.S. I adore Andrew. I hope your parents do. )

  • Radish

    Mary – you just made me tear up. At work! Thank you so so much for coming here and reading all this. I cannot explain in words my gratitude. And yes, my parents adore Andrew too! It’s impossible not to – he’s just amazing!

  • Vanessa

    So yummy looking! With the cold weather coming, I have really been in the mood for hearty, autumnal braised meats and this looks like it will fulfill what I have been looking for!

  • Radish

    Vanessa – it reminded me of that most amazing pork you guys made that afternoon in the park. I was sold. I was totally enraptured. And I thought of it when I was making it too! Yay for fall/winter braising. Btw, do you have All About Braising? You really should – it’s terrific.

  • Lynn

    I have made this many times since I first read the recipe it in Gourmet. I usually add a couple of sliced apples to the pot before putting it into the oven.

  • Katie

    Your story about the pork idosyncracies of your family remind me of my own. It made total sense to me as a child that my father “didn’t eat pork” but ate bacon and sausage (and pancetta, and salami, and prosciutto). Later in life, many questioned this logic. I have pretty much gotten over any pork squeamishness at this time; especially because of how luscious braised pork shoulder is… and how easy. Thanks for the story.

  • Pork Shoulder via Twitter « Bread & Putter

    […] Pork Shoulder via Twitter January 11, 2011 tags: pork, twitter by Jennifer A (Bread and Putter) As I have mentioned before, Twitter is an interesting thing.  It’s also a dangerous thing if you aren’t trying to waste some time. One link leads to another and to another until suddenly it is an hour later and what was it you were looking for?  But the good news is that sometimes what you weren’t looking for finds you instead. Like this Cider-Braised Pork Shoulder with Caramelized Onions. […]

  • Sandy

    This was one of my first braise attempts. Made just last weekend. Thanks for sharing such a delicious and simple recipe! Curious to try it with a bone-in cut!

Leave a Comment