When I think pork, I think apples. And when I think of the perfect Sunday dinner, my mind is already picturing my sweet and savory Pork Roast with Apple Pan Gravy as the centerpiece for my table. It’s Sunday-Go-To-Eatin’ at the Grahams.
In the South, the most important meal of the week is Sunday dinner. Come to think of it, on most every other day of the week, the noonday meal is called “lunch,” but when Sunday rolls around, it is always called “dinner”—a name that does justice to this time-honored family tradition. At least, that’s the way it used to be.
Times change, and in the Graham family like many of you, we wind up grabbing a quick bite after church, or rushing off to watch the big game on TV, or heading for the golf course, or whatever. It seems life moves faster these days; there’s no longer time for traditions that once seemed so important. Well, I think it’s high time to dial back the clock and return to those years of focused family life with time spent around the Sunday dinner table.
Cajun country is pork country, and around these parts, pork roast shows up on the Sunday table most often. A brined and seasoned pork shoulder usually hits the oven by mid-morning, and within no time at all, the smell of roasting meat fills the air. For Cajun families, the Sunday meal lasts all day long, and it’s not unusual to see a dozen or so taking part. The noncs (uncles) and the tantes (aunts) and all the coozans (cousins) show up with casseroles and fixings to go along with the main course. While sweet tea is most often the drink of choice, it’s not uncommon to see freshly squeezed homemade lemonade on the table as well. The Sunday dinner is usually served straight from the stovetop with big pots and foil trays lined up on the burners and along the kitchen counter.
In this culture, Sunday dinner is a celebratory occasion to give thanks to God and family. The food is hearty; the helpings are large. Dirty rice, mashed potatoes, cabbage dressing, smothered green beans, boiled corn-on-the-cob, baked beans, stewed black-eyes with ham hock, mustard potato salad, creamy coleslaw, and always a huge tray of brown ‘n serve rolls with a yellow can of Steen’s syrup at the ready. It’s not uncommon to see a variety of meats—chicken fricassée, smothered round steak, or even wild game from a recent hunt, but there’s always–I mean always–a large pork roast taking center stage on the Sunday table.
My Pork Roast with Apple Pan Gravy is Sunday-go-to-eatin’ perfect in every way. An overnight brine in an apple juice/salt wash sets the tone for the delivery of flavor from a light dusting of my Sweet Heat seasoning. I meticulously poke openings in the meat with a paring knife to shove cloves of garlic an inch or more into the pork. And for added flavor, the roast is browned on the bottom of a cast-iron pot and deglazed with a dousing of apple cider.
Apple sauce and freshly sliced Granny Smiths go into the pot with the pork, and it all roasts to fall-apart tender. And the resulting apple pan gravy is the prize worthy of a mound of mashed potatoes or a mountain of white rice. With this recipe, I invite you to bring back Sunday dinner to your table, and refocus on the importance of family and friends.
- 1 quart apple juice
- 1 cup table salt
- 1 (6 to 8-pound) pork shoulder (Boston butt) roast, bone-in
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons Acadiana Table Sweet Heat Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion
- 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
- 1 cup apple cider
- 1 cup apple sauce
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 medium apples, cored and sliced
- 2 whole apples, unpeeled and uncored
- ¼ cup chopped curly-leaf parsley
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- In a large container with a lid, pour in the apple juice and salt, and stir to combine. Add the pork along with 2 cups of ice. Cover the container and let refrigerate 8 hours or overnight. Remove the pork roast and pat dry.
- Preheat your oven to 300ºF.
- Rub the roast with oil and sprinkle with dry seasoning. Make 1-inch slits in the roast and insert the garlic cloves. In a large cast-iron pot or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat, add the roast. Brown on all sides including the fat cap. Add the onions and bell pepper and continue to cook until the onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Pour in the apple cider to deglaze. Add the apple sauce, stock, sliced apples, whole apples, garlic, parsley, and rosemary to the pot. Place the roast fat-side-up on top of the vegetables; cover and roast for 2 hours. Uncover and roast for 1 hour longer until the fat cap browns and the meat reaches an internal temperature of 170ºF, or until fork tender. Remove the pork roast from the pot and place on a platter to rest covered with foil.
- Place the pot with the pan juices and drippings on the stovetop. Remove the rosemary stems. Turn the heat to high, bring the mixture to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Add the butter at the finish and stir to incorporate. Taste the gravy and season with salt and pepper, if needed.
- Slice the roast (it should begin to fall apart) and remove the shoulder bone. Serve on a platter with all of the pan drippings and pieces of apple along with the gravy on the side.
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