The weather is at it again- seesawing between warm days and crisp nights. I love fall. My flip flops can still make an appearance but the flannel sheets and cold air from open windows mean summer has packed its bags until next year. In the kitchen I am ready to say farewell to gazpacho and to welcome autumn flavors with open arms. A recent weekend trip to Minneapolis (to find clothes that fit an expanding belly!) took us past several apple orchards. Never one to pass up fall apples, I arrived home with several bags of apples and a jug of freshly squeezed apple cider.

Apples and pork are a classic fall duo and as I gazed at that jug of cider visions of an apple cider demi glace glistening atop thick pork chops filled my head. Never having made a demi glace, this apple cider version seemed like a good place to start. Unlike beef or veal demi glace, which demand 12-24 hours of cooking time, this version cooked down over a long afternoon.

A pot filled with apple cider, apple cider vinegar, garlic, bay leaves and other spices simmers down over the course of several hours. Using a high quality chicken stock speeds up the process (though homemade would be terrific too) and through a series of reductions you end up with about 4 tablespoons of deeply concentrated salty apple cider goodness.

A neat trick for knowing when your liquid is reduced by 1/3 is to take a wooden spoon handle, stick it into the pot, and then mark the height of the liquid with a rubber band. Later, when the liquid is reduced you can stick the handle back in the pot and quickly eyeball just how much the level of the liquid has changed.

Once the demi glace was ready, I prepared a bed of fennel, apples, and thyme to support two thick pork chops. The chops were rubbed with mix of fresh and dry herbs, but no salt, as the demi glace provides plenty of saltiness to flavor the dish. A splash of apple cider and a bit of foil allowed the pork to remain moist throughout the cooking time. Near the end, the foil was removed and the apple cider demi glace was brushed on top of the chops. A few minutes later the sauce caramelized and the pork chops ware perfectly cooked. The demi glace provides a depth of flavor that is both subtle and suberb, complimenting the sweetness of the pork. Served with tender apple and fennel slices that have soaked up the pan juices, this is a meal to welcome fall with gusto.

Fennel Braised Pork Chops with an Apple Cider Demi Glace (Printable Recipe)
Serves 4

Apple Cider Demi Glace (Adapted from Cuisine Unlimited)
Ingredients:
2 cups apple cider
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 head garlic, cut in half
2 shallots, quartered
3 bay leaves
2 dozen peppercorns
6 cups chicken stock
Sea salt (To taste, I found it unnecessary but this will depend on the saltiness of your chicken stock.)
White pepper (I used a very tiny pinch)

Directions:

Set a heavy saucepan (preferably non-stick) over high heat. Add the apple cider and bring the liquid to a boil. Lower the heat to maintain a steady simmer and cook until the cider is reduced by half. Add the apple cider vinegar to the pan and simmer until the mixture is reduced by one-third. Next add the garlic, shallots, bay leaves, peppercorns, and the chicken stock. Bring the liquid to a controlled boil and cook until the sauce is reduced by about two thirds. When approximately 1 cup of liquid remains, take the pan off the heat and pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a heatproof bowl. Press down on any solids with a spoon, extracting as much liquid as possible. Return the strained liquid to the pan, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning, until the demi glace resembles the consistency of honey (it will be reduced to about 4 Tablespoons). Carefully scrape the demi glace into a heatproof bowl, stir in a tiny pinch of white pepper and taste to see if salt is needed. Set aside until ready to use for the pork. The demi glace can be made ahead and kept up to one week in the fridge. Bring it to room temperature before using (otherwise it will be very thick and hard to spread).

Fennel Braised Pork Chops: (Note, the demi glace will be quite salty and no additional salt is needed for the chops.)

2 lbs 1 1/2″ thick Pork Chops (2 very large or 4 small chops)
1 Apple, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 Fennel bulb, fronds removed and saved, sliced
4 sprigs fresh Thyme
1 Tablespoon fresh Sage, minced
1 teaspoon freshly ground Black pepper
1 teaspoon ground Fennel
1/2 teaspoon Garlic powder
2 teaspoons of Argan oil (or hazelnut or olive oil)
1/4 cup Apple Cider

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle. In the bottom of a medium size 2-3″ deep casserole dish layer apple slices, fennel fronds, fennel slices, and thyme sprigs. In a small bowl mix together the sage, black pepper, ground fennel, and garlic powder. Rub the spice mixture on both sides of the pork chops. Place the pork chops on top of the layered vegetables in the casserole dish. Drizzle argan oil on top of the chops and pour the apple cider into a corner of the casserole dish. Cover the dish with foil and place in the oven. Bake for 60 minutes.

After 60 minutes, remove the foil, check the temperature of the pork by sticking a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the chop. Brush the demi glace on top of each pork chop. Continue to bake, uncovered, until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees, about 15-30 minutes depending on the thickness of the chop. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the pork chops to a platter. Serve with cooked apples and fennel alongside the pork.

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