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Dec 25, 2012
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Wine With...Pork with Prunes and Cream

One of our favorite things about being in France is sometimes getting invited to small dinner parties where the conversation is invariably lively, the food utterly delicious, and the wines exceptional. Perhaps this sounds like an outdated riff on France’s notorious joie de vivre, but we’ve been lucky enough to be present at such gatherings more than a few times in recent years. Most of our hosts have been French, but a few American friends with a home base in Paris have picked up some of the secrets to this sort of entertaining. One of the keys they’ve learned is to focus on recipes that can be prepared well ahead of time, leaving the hosts free to be attentive to the flow of both the conversation and the wine, and to all the other dynamics essential for a successful evening.

One-dish dinners offer a great way to cook ahead of time. Informal chili, beef stews and the like are tasty make-ahead dishes, especially for a crowd, but they tend to be less elegant variations on the kind of dish we wanted for a dinner party we hosted recently. We were seeking a recipe to serve about six people, one that would be a little less familiar than the usual dinner party fare, and one that could be mostly prepared at least a day before the actual event. Oh, and we also wanted a dish that would allow some excellent wines to show themselves off at their very best.

In the end, we channeled the memory of a French dish that we’d had years ago. It was a stylish stew (and no, those aren’t contradictory terms) featuring slow-cooked chunks of pork enriched by prunes and cream, with pungent herbs and Cognac catapulting the amalgam of textures and flavors into a realm of rich, intense epicurean delight.

Pork With Prunes and Cream

Serves 6.

3 1/3-4 pounds boneless pork shoulder or butt
salt
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
3 leeks, thoroughly rinsed and thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only)
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon black pepper corns
1 bay leaf
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup Cognac or other brandy
½ cup heavy whipping cream

If possible start making the pork at least 24 hours (and up to 48 hours) before serving.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Trim the pork and cut it into 1½ inch pieces. Pat the meat dry with paper towels and spread it out in a single layer on a sided baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt, tossing the meat to make sure it’s well coated with oil. Place the pan in the oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until the meat has lightly browned.

While the meat is browning, add 1 tablespoon of oil to a Dutch oven or other large pot. Add the leeks, salt them, and cook over medium heat until they are soft and wilted. Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes or so. Add the browned meat to the pot along with any juices that may have accumulated. Add the fennel seeds, peppercorns, bay leaf and thyme. Whisk the flour into the cup of white wine and pour it into the pot. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken slightly. Pour in the chicken broth and Cognac, and when the mixture begins to simmer, lower the heat and cook, covered, over very low heat for an hour or more until the meat is very tender (it may also be cooked in a slow oven). Refrigerate until an hour or so before serving.

An hour or so before serving, or just before your dinner guests are due to arrive, lift off any fat that has accumulated on top of the stew and discard. Stir in the prunes and simmer the stew, covered, for 45 minutes (or cook in a 325° oven). Stir in the cream and continue cooking for another 15 or 20 minutes.

Accompany the stew with rice or polenta, or top it with thick slices of grilled bread drizzled with olive oil.

* * *

We found that this surprisingly elegant dish pairs equally well with red and white wines, so long as the particular wine is rich enough to complement the creamy sauce. We had thought that some more austere wines might provide sensory contrasts and work nicely as well, but found that they ended up seeming too tart and linear. No, this is a dish that demands a bit of extravagance, and we are happy to recommend wines that oblige.

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Chappellet, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay 2010

$32

While ripe, oak-tinged California Chardonnay often seems to want to dominate a food and wine pairing, this stew is one dish that invites vinous opulence. At the same time, though, the wine can’t go overboard, and Chappellet’s 2010 Chardonnay treads that line very successfully. It’s seductively full but also harmonious and balanced, and proved very tasty indeed when enjoyed with this dinner.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley (South Africa) Pinot Noir 2010

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$40

Showing none of the rubbery flavors that mar some South African reds, this Pinot feels silky and supple when you sip it, and so proves texturally enticing. Adding to its appeal are multi-layered flavors and aromas that hint at dark cherries, sweet vanilla, and more. Because not at all heavy but still substantial on the palate, it married especially well with this quite rich dish.

Domaine Katsaros, Krania Olympus (Greece) Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

(Imported by Cava Spiliadis, USA)

$50

Though initially quite oaky, this distinctive-tasting Cabernet calmed down when paired with our rich, creamy dish, and revealed a somewhat spicy, almost herbaceous edge that added complexity to its more overt dark fruit. Everyone who tasted it admired it, and no one thought it to be too international in style.

Tablas Creek, Paso Robles (California) “Esprit de Beaucastel” 2010

$55

A red blend that echoes its French progenitor yet seems more fruit-laden and less overtly earthy, this youthful but substantial wine tasted full and satisfying—just what this rich, cool-weather dish wanted in a companion.

Waters, Columbia Valley (Washington) “Prelude” 2010)

$30

A Rhône-style white blend of Roussanne and Viognier, this wine is redolent of autumn fruits with an enticing floral bouquet. It’s full-bodied on the palate, but at the same time never heavy or unduly filled with oak. More than anything else, its lush, mouth-filling texture is what made it such a good match with this particular dish.