Park your broom and sit for a spell,
I have a haunting story to tell…
about a fatal error while cooking,
and a pork shoulder at first good-looking…
Until black magic got bold,
or food chemistry took hold,
and left me with quite the mess.
Sit tight for a fright,
followed by a redemptive delight
starring a cocotte strong and proper
from Normandy Kitchen Copper!
(thanks, Fid and Bill!)
VFC says: This spooky tale is brought to you by Amy L.!
Preparing Cider Braised Pork Shoulder
On a dark and stormy Sunday, with equal parts confidence and fear, I began slicing deep into the corpse of a pig. As I cut through layers of fat, thick red blood from the sacrificed animal coated my hands, and I feared this would awaken vampires in neighborhood New England cemeteries where I live. Demons, vampires, werewolves, and witches prey all over New England, as more than just Salem is haunted during this time of the year!
As ounce after ounce piled on top of my food scale, I could feel hair on the back of my neck stand. The storm outside died down and the air stood eerily still. Afternoon turned to night and werewolves howled under the moonlight. Werewolves are fur real and vampires know how to have a bloody good time, and both Halloween creatures love to feast on pig blood at night. To prevent unwanted trick-or-treaters from arriving at my doorstep, and to prepare a more appropriate amount of pork for one night’s meal, I made the quick decision to cut the recipe in half.
Teamwork makes the scream work, so my husband took over cleaning the carcass. Sliced and diced, he packed the meat up real nice. He wiped it all down, really went to town — from the prep station to my knife, he took care of his wife! He’s the greatest ghoul!
I salted the pork, prepped my station for work, and got my mise en place in order: vegetable oil, pork shoulder, chopped onion, freshly torn sage leaves, a bottle of Angry Orchard hard apple cider, and apple cider vinegar.
Ghosts, Witches, and Cooking Under a Spell
Vampires and werewolves were no longer in sight, which eased some of the fright, but our house still reminds me of The Conjuring.
There is a ghostly presence in our house that becomes spine-chillingly present during the weeks leading up to Halloween. Our old farmhouse was built in 1890, so many people have died here. The only thing missing is a cemetery outside with headstones that read RIP. Ghosts are dead, so they don’t worry about their waist lines. For that reason, I feel their spooky company when I am cooking at night. This year, ghosts were joined by witches with hefty appetites. Broomsticks were everywhere; it was a startling sight!
The witches felt tricked as I cut the recipe in half. Hangry and upset, I heard their evil laugh. There was only enough pork to feed my husband and me, so they cast a wicked spell of confusion onto my already worried mind.
Dazed and in a haze, I hurried to cook my stew, hopeful that completing my task would encourage them to shoo.
On the burner went the pot, set to medium — not hot — with vegetable oil inside. I browned the pork shoulder on both sides. I took the pork out of the cocotte, dropped the temperature to low, and with the leftover juices and oil, added onions to toil. I threw the sage leaves, salt, and pepper down, mixed it around, and waited for it all to brown.
Back to a medium heat it went, into the pot — half the hard cider was spent. I stirred nice and slow and turned the heat back to low. The cider vinegar went next, and with a stir and a vex, the pork went back in.
I put the lid on like a hat, and on a low simmer it sat, so I let it cook and relaxed.
Burning and the Black Magic of Food Chemistry
Still under the witches’ spell, feeling dizzy and unwell, I forgot I cut the recipe in half, not doing the cooking math.
As my stew simmered, I sat in a nearby room — the witches with their hats and brooms, casted spells on the food, leading to its doom.
Blissfully unaware that my stew was overcooking, I can’t help but think the witches were there enjoying, looking…
Like the sun after dawn, the water rose and was gone. The stew went from brown to black; there was no turning back. The pork shoulder dried and charred, the onions and sage leaves on par.
The smell of cider and burnt pork spread through the house and I ran to the kitchen, saddened by what I found. The outside walls of my once sparking rose gold cocotte were now orange like a pumpkin, an appropriate note.
When I lifted the lid and looked inside, I saw the stew had burned and fried! This caused me to shriek, so husband ran into the kitchen, finding me feeling sad and depressed, and totally defeated.
“Don’t fear, my dear, though Halloween is here!
You’ll get it next time; don’t shed a tear!
And I have faith in your cocotte!
It has worked hard for many years before you,
and it will cook for many more, too!”
I took a deep breath and said a silent prayer, that the tin lining in my cocotte would still be there. How could my cocotte survive a spell this wicked?
My Cocotte Rose from the Dead
Still in a state of disarray, my husband stayed in the kitchen to help. He removed pork shoulder from the cocotte that was not burned throughout. I have to hand it to him, he was very optimistic. He was able to reduce my stress while making sandwiches that tasted like brisket.
Meanwhile, I hurried to save my cocotte. I boiled water and dish soap in it twice to remove as much of the gunk as I could get.
Next, I scrubbed the inside with a soft sponge and dish soap, carefully removing the remaining burnt food, feeling scared, but also hopeful. To my surprise, the tin remained totally intact — good Halloween magic was on our side, even though the witches attacked!
After that, I decided to remove all memory of this horrifying experience, so I polished and washed the exterior and lid of my cocotte, restoring its bright color and spirit!
Sort of like Frankenstein, my cocotte rose from the dead. I was floored by how hardy my pan was, and how I was able to clean up this Halloween mess! Fid and Bill sold me a sturdy and solid pan, and this experience surprisingly boosted my confidence, making me an even greater copper cookware fan!
The following weekend, I tried this recipe again, but this time for my husband and a friend. Additional positive energy kept the witches and spooky ghosts away, making this a great opportunity to cook on another cool autumn day.
I’ll spare you the details of the first half of this recipe. Instead, I’ll describe the final stages of cooking, as I was able to finish this time successfully!
After letting the pork shoulder cook until it softened, I removed it with a strainer, turned the heat to medium, and made the sauce. I added heavy cream to the cocotte and stirred it into the liquid. I brought the liquid to a boil and allowed it to reduce by half, until it started to thicken. Fat rose to the surface, and I skimmed it off with a spoon.
I added the pork shoulder back in, adjusted the heat to low, and covered it in liquid, all under an October moon’s glow. The pork shoulder simmered until it was heated through, this time without my kitchen cluttered with witches’ brooms.
That night we ate braised cider pork shoulder on egg noodles, it was such a delight! I felt elated that the recipe finally came out right, despite all of the Halloween creatures and fright! My husband, my friend, and I celebrated by dancing to “The Monster Mash” the rest of the night!