When the first fresh cider arrives in our markets each fall, I buy a quart and bring it home, not only for sipping but also for cooking dishes like Cider-Baked Pork, Red Cabbage, and Apples. For this hearty casserole, sliced red cabbage, onions, and apples are sautéed in butter, then simmered in cider along with seasonings of sugar, vinegar, and crushed fennel seeds. The cabbage and apples are spread in an oven-to table dish, topped with pan-fried slices of pork tenderloin, and then baked. Although this main course is substantial enough to be stand alone accompanied by a simple salad, creamy mashed potatoes or buttered noodles would make tempting sides.
This dish has several bonus features. You can assemble it up to four hours ahead so that all that is necessary at the last minute is to pop it in the oven for about half an hour. A single recipe serves 6, but you can easily halve the recipe for a smaller yield.
Cider-Baked Pork, Red Cabbage and Apples
1 small head red cabbage
3 tart firm apples (Granny Smith, Jonathan, or Macoun work well)
5 tbsp unsalted butter, plus extra for the baking dish
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onions
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
4 1/2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp crushed fennel seeds
3 cups cider
2 pork tenderloins, each about 1 lb, trimmed of silver skin and excess fat
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1. Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter a 9-by-13-in casserole.
2. Quarter and core the cabbage then cut each quarter crosswise into 1/4-in wide strips to get 6 cups. You will have some cabbage left over; save for another use. Quarter and core the unpeeled apples, then cut quarters lengthwise into 1/4-in-thick slices.
3. Melt 3 tbsp of the butter in a large, heavy skillet set over medium heat. When hot, add the cabbage and onions. Sauté the mixture, stirring, until just starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the apples, sugar, vinegar, fennel seeds, and 2 1/2 tsp salt and cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Pour in 2 cups of the cider and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook at a simmer until cabbage and apples are tender, 20 to 30 minutes or longer. Taste cabbage and season with more salt if needed. Transfer the cabbage mixture along with juices to the prepared casserole.
4. Tuck the tapered tail end of each tenderloin under, then cut each tenderloin into equal slices; they should be thick, about 1-in or so. In a small bowl, mix together 1 tsp kosher salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper. Season the pork slices on both sides with this mixture.
5. Heat the canola oil in a large, heavy skillet set over medium-high heat. When oil is very hot but not smoking, add half the slices. Cook the pork 1 minute per side to brown lightly. Remove to a dinner plate and repeat with remaining pork. Add remaining 1 cup cider to the skillet and reduce by half, whisking the browned bits on the bottom of the pan into the liquid. Whisk in the remaining 2 tbsp butter and any juices collected on the plate with the pork.
6. Arrange the pork in overlapping slices on top of the cabbage, making two rows. Spoon the reduced cider over the pork slices. (Casserole can be prepared 4 hours ahead to this point; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before continuing.)
7. Bake until an instant-read thermometer registers 145 degrees F when inserted into the center of a pork slice, 25 to 30 minutes or more. Remove and let casserole stand 10 minutes before serving.
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