Eric Akis: Pork Daube a French casserole for an aromatic feast

Eric Akis

If you’re having a casual dinner party and want to warmly welcome your guests, have a big pot of something savoury and delicious cooking in the oven when they arrive.

There are certainly many types of dishes with inviting aromas. But if you want to offer something French in style that’s hearty and comforting, make daube — a centuries-old classic French dish made with meat, wine, vegetables and seasonings, all slowly cooked together.

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According to the New Food Lover’s Companion, every region in France has its own version of daube, which is sometimes cooked in a deep casserole called a daubière, from which the word daube is derived.

Beef is commonly used in daube, but you’ll also find recipes that use other meats, such as lamb, venison and pork. For my version, I used cubes of pork, cut from the leg or shoulder, which are richly seared, then slowly cooked in the oven with a thickened red wine and stock mixture that also contains garlic, pearl onions and chopped carrot and celery.

I flavoured the daube “Provence-style” by cooking the meat with orange zest and juice, olives, sliced fennel and herbes de Provence, a southern French-style blend of dried herbs.

My daube, which yields eight servings, could be spooned over rice pilaf, couscous, orzo or mashed potatoes. Served with sliced baguette and a big bowl of salad or a steamed and buttered green vegetable, such as green beans or asparagus, it becomes a festive winter meal.

I like to break the preparation of the daube into two parts. The night or morning before I serve it, I’ll cube the pork, cut the vegetables, chop the parsley, zest and juice the orange, measure the wine, stock and tomato paste, open the canned tomatoes and keep everything stored in the fridge until I’m ready to make the daube. I’ll also measure out the herbs and flour for the recipe and keep them out at room temperature.

Ninety minutes to two hours or so before my dinner guests arrive, I’ll sear the pork for the daube, sauté the vegetables, add the other ingredients and cook the daube in the oven.

When your guests walk in the door, they’ll be greeted by the daube’s wonderful aroma, and it shouldn’t be too long until they are enjoying it.

When searing the cubes of pork for the daube, don’t overcrowd them in the cooking vessel. If you do, moisture seeping from the meat won’t have room to evaporate and will start to accumulate at the bottom of the pot. That, in turn, will cause the meat to boil and steam, rather than richly sear.

Provence-style Pork Daube

Cubes of seared, succulent pork slowly cooked with a pot of flavourful olives, garlic, fennel and other vegetables, orange, herbs and wine.

Preparation time: 60 minutes

Cooking time: About two hours and 20 minutes

Makes: Eight servings

1 (1 lb.) fennel bulb

3 1/4 to 3 1/2 lbs boneless pork leg or shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut 1 1/2-inch cubes

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 Tbsp olive oil

2 large carrots, halved lengthwise and then sliced widthwise into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces

3 medium-sized ribs of celery, halved lengthwise and then sliced widthwise into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces

1 1/2 cups frozen pearl onions (see Note)

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

2 large garlic cloves, minced

3 Tbsp tomato paste

2 tsp herbes de Provence

1/4 tsp ground cloves

2 cups red wine (divided)

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can diced tomatoes

2 cups chicken broth or stock

3 bay leaves

40 black or green olives, or a mix of both

1 large orange, finely grated zest and juice of

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Trim off the tough upper portion of the fennel and compost or save for soup stock.

Cut the fennel bulb in quarters. Cut out the tough centre core from each quarter piece of fennel and compost or save for soup stock. Cut the quartered pieces of fennel into 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick slices and set them a bowl.

Preheat oven to 325 F. Pat the cubed pork dry with paper towel, set on a wide plate and season with salt and pepper.

Place the oil in a very large Dutch oven set over medium-high heat (see Eric’s options). When oil is hot, cook the cubed pork, in batches, until nicely seared. Remove the seared cubes of pork from the pot as you go along and set in a large bowl.

When pork is all seared, add the fennel, carrot, celery and pearl onions to the Dutch oven and cook four to five minutes. Now add the flour, garlic, tomato paste, herbes de Provence and ground cloves and cook and stir three minutes more.

Slowly mix in one cup of the wine. When mixture is very thick, slowly mix in the rest of the wine. Add the diced tomatoes, broth (or stock), bay leaves, olives and orange zest and juice, bring to a simmer, and then mix in the seared pork.

Cover the daube and cook in the oven 90 to 100 minutes, or until pork is very tender. Taste and season the daube with salt and pepper, if needed. Mix in the parsley and serve.

Note: Frozen pearl onions are harder to find these days, but they are available at some grocery stores. If you can’t find them, replace them with a medium onion, diced.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have a Dutch oven, you could sear the pork, in batches, in a large and deep 12-inch-wide skillet. Place the seared pork in a large and deep casserole or other ovenproof cooking vessel as you go along. When pork is seared, sauté the vegetables and make the saucy mixture in the skillet, pour over the pork, then cover and cook the daube in the oven.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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