'Tis the season for spirits -- in your food as well as your glass

Pork stew with prunes and Armagnac.

 

In this window of time between Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas excess, take a break from fancy feasts and indulge in a robust and rustic one-pot meal. This wine- and brandy-laced stew is guaranteed to warm you in the cold weather. After all, while libations are certainly for sipping, don’t overlook their power to enhance flavor in food, such as this pork and prune stew fortified with Armagnac. If this recipe doesn’t warm you, I’m not sure what will. 

Armagnac is a brandy produced in the southwestern region of France. Like cognac, Armagnac is derived from grapes — but the difference veers subtly from there. While cognac is twice distilled, yielding a smoother pour, Armagnac is distilled only once, which lends more nuance, character and complexity to its flavor. And while this certainly makes for intriguing and wonderful sipping, it also adds delightful complexity to soups, stews, sauces, even desserts.

In this recipe, Armagnac teams up with luscious prunes and pork to create a rich and homey stew perfumed with juniper and rosemary. Just remember to pour yourself a splash to enjoy while you are preparing the meal.

Pork stew

with prunes

and Armagnac

Active Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 3 to 3 1/2 hours, plus steeping time

Yield: Serves 6

Ingredients

20 prunes, pitted

1/2 cup Armagnac brandy

3 pounds pork shoulder, excess fat trimmed, meat cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 ounces bacon, coarsely chopped

2 large carrots, chopped

3 medium shallots, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 bottle full-bodied red wine

1 cup demi-glace or high-quality beef stock

1 bouquet garni: 4 juniper berries, 3 rosemary sprigs, 2 thyme sprigs and 2 bay leaves wrapped in cheesecloth and tied with a kitchen string

Directions

Combine the prunes and Armagnac in a bowl and let stand at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Season the pork on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or oven-proof pot with a lid. Add the pork in batches, without overcrowding, and brown on all sides. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remaining pork.

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon pork fat from the pan. Add the bacon and saute until its fat renders. Add the carrots and shallots and saute until the shallots soften and the carrots are crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Return the pork and any accumulated juices to the pan. Add the prunes and Armagnac, the wine, beef stock, bouquet garni, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pan, transfer to the oven and cook until the meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring once every hour or so.

Remove the stew from the oven, discard the bouquet garni and taste for seasoning. Serve with mashed potatoes, polenta or crusty bread.

(The stew may be prepared up to two days in advance. Warm over low heat or in a 300-degree oven before serving.)

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