Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Mancare de gutui cu carne de porc

"Pork with quince"

This time of year quinces (gutui) are in season and can be found in both supermarkets and at the market on the street corner. Inedible raw, they have something of the quality of the apple, but perhaps a more robust texture when cooked with pork. We Brits are perhaps familiar with the quince's sweetness when used in jams and tarts, but in the slow-cooking oven they possibly exceed the apple as an accompaniment to pork, making them one of the mainstays of middle easten cuisine, and possibly thereby emigrating to Romania. If you can't find quinces, or they aren't in season, you can substitute them with apples, but don't sauté them for as long as suggested in this recipe otherwise you'll most likely end up with a messy pulp.

Note: You can follow the basic instructions and just leave out the pork to make a side dish of quice wedges to make a change from potatoes.

Time: About an hour and a half
Servings: For two people

2 thick steaks of pork shoulder
A couple of knobs of butter
A heaped teaspoon of plain flour
About a cup or so of meat stock (home made or with a stock cube)
2 quinces (about the same in weight as the meat, before peeling and coring)
1 heaped tablespoon of sugar
3 tablespoons of white wine
25ml of plum brandy (tuica) (optional)
Salt and pepper for seasoning

1. Preheat the oven to a low-moderate heat, around 190-200c.
2. Melt a knob of butter in a wide frying pan and brown the pork off on both sides.
3. Meanwhile, warm the flour in a large ovenproof pan, don't let in burn, and once warm, add half a cup (125ml) of the meat stock mixing well to ensure that there aren't too many lumps.
4. Remove the pork from the frying pan once browned and place in the pan with the stock in it, bring to the boil, reduce the heat, and allow to simmer happily for five to ten minutes. Flip the pork steaks over at one point to ensure even cooking.
5. Whilst the pork is simmering, peel the quinces (a potato/apple peeler will do) and cut them into either slices or wedges (I prefer wedges - it gives some solidity to the finished product) and cut out the woody centre and the pips. Rule of thumb, if it's hard to cut, cut it out.
6. Into the same pan that you browned the meat in (why waste the taste?) add another knob of butter and on a moderate heat start to brown the quince segments, turning as they brown, until they take on a slightly caramelized look and a fork enters them without too much resistance. Once they are done, transfer them to the pan with the meat and the stock in it (which by now you've probably taken off the heat). They don't have to be completely soft to the centre as they'll finish cooking in the oven later.
7. In another pan, maybe whilst the quinces are browning, put a heaped tablespoon of caster sugar and shake it about a bit to get an even layer. Put the pan on a moderate heat and, watching carefully, allow the sugar to caramelize. Don't stir it too much or you'll end up with lumps, just drag the melted sugar into the unmelted sugar. It's a bit of a tricky technique (YouTube it for tips) but basically you want to avoid burning the sugar (tastes bitter) and get a nice brown caramel colour. Once you think you've done the best you can, pour in a good splash of white wine (3 tablespoons for the measurement obsessed), a splash of plum brandy (if you want, not essential, that's about 25ml) and a serving-spoonful of the stock, and allow the caramelized sugar to dissolve in the liquid. It's probably best if you don't use chilled wine as the cold wine hitting the pan will turn the liquid sugar into crispy lumps. Once the sugar has mostly dissolved into the added liquid, pour it over the meat and quinces in the ovenproof pan.
8. Cover the pan (lid, or if lacking, tin foil) and put it in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes. Check it after 20 minutes, prod the quince to check they are soft, and add a little more of the meat stock if you feel it's drying out.
9. When cooked (quinces soft, but not disintegrated, pork cooked through) serve with some seasonal vegetables or a cabbage salad.
10. If, after removing the quince and the pork to the plate, the remaining juice is a little thin, bring it to the boil and add a knob of butter and a tablespoon of flour and boil and reduce for a minute or two until thick and sticky before pouring over the meat and fruit.

Real heart-warming stuff, this dish, and a nice compliment of sweet and savoury. I hope you give it a go and enjoy it.

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