Crispy Pork and Apple Crostini

This is a really exciting appetizer – crispy, shredded pork, spicy applesauce and peppery rocket are the perfect combination atop a crisp slice of baguette. What a treat.

And while this might seem like a lot of work for an appetiser, it’s actually very easy and almost entirely make-ahead. The instructions are long, but the hands-on time required from you is not.

When done in a slow cooker, the pork is literally effortless – you just throw it in and come back 10 hours later, after which time the meat is so tender you hardly have to breathe in its direction to shred it. Once cooked, the pork can and should be frozen, so you can make it weeks, even months, ahead of time. This means when it comes to party time you’re well ahead of the game, and all set to dazzle with these porky delights.

If you remain unconvinced this is a suitable appetizer – more’s the pity – these also make fabulous sandwiches. Pack the spicy applesauce, crispy pork and rocket into fluffy buns and serve with a cold beer.

Makes enough for 24 canapes, or 4 – 5 sandwiches. However, this weight of pork will produce twice as much meat as you need for 24 canapes. As it’s literally no extra work, I suggest cooking the full weight of pork anyway and using half the meat to cook something else at another date.

Tip: You don’t absolutely have to use a slow cooker, but it’s much, much easier if you do. Honestly, it’s worth having a slow cooker just so you can make pulled pork. Go and get one. Or borrow one for the day. I guarantee your next door neighbour has one she’s not using.

Ingredients

2kg pork shoulder

Salt and pepper

For the applesauce:

1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
Chilli flakes, to taste
Salt and pepper
4 apples, peeled, cored and chopped into 2cm cubes
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves

For the crispy pork:

1 heaped tbsp pork fat rendered from cooking (or olive oil)
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
Cooked, shredded shoulder of pork (yield from 1kg uncooked pork shoulder, approx. 400g cooked), defrosted
Pork stock from cooking (half the liquid resulting from the slow cooker pork operation), use either frozen or defrosted
Salt and pepper

To serve:

2 – 3 baguettes

Bag of rocket / arugula (approx. 60g)

Method:

Remove the pork from the fridge an hour before cooking it. Season the pork all over with salt and pepper and place the pork in the slow cooker. Add 3/4 cup of water to the pot, pop the lid on and cook on high for 9 – 10 hours, or until meltingly tender. When cooked, transfer the meat to a large bowl and set aside for a moment. Pour the cooking liquid into a jug and refrigerate – we’ll come back to this in a moment. Now back to the meat: remove the rind (if you had one in the first place) and any flabby bits, and use two forks to shred the meat. Transfer the shredded meat to a couple of freezer bags and freeze until needed.

Once the cooking liquid has cooled completely, the fat will have risen to the top and hardened. Spoon the fat onto a sheet of greaseproof paper and roll up like a giant candy, twisting the ends to seal. The fat is absolutely delicious and can be used for lots of things, including crisping the pork later on. Freeze until needed.

The remaining liquid that stayed beneath the fat will probably carry a bit of a jelly-like consistency. Think of this as really concentrated, flavourful pork stock. (That’s basically what it is.) Either spoon into ice cube trays or simply transfer to two freezer bags and freeze until needed. (I say two freezer bags because if you froze the pork in two batches I suggest dividing out the pork stock to freeze in two batches, as well. Far easier than trying to separate it once frozen.)

So now you have cooked, shredded pork, pure pork fat, and a pork stock all frozen and ready to be cooked with. You can make just about anything with this porky trifecta: tacos, Chinese crispy wraps, pulled pork sandwiches, a pasta sauce, the list is endless. This recipe uses half of the cooked pork and stock, and about 1 heaped tbsp of the fat. You can double the rest of the recipe to make the full 48 canapes / 8 – 10 sandwiches, but you’ll need to either fry the pork in two batches or use a second frying pan.

To make the applesauce, heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil, chopped onion, a good pinch of chilli flakes, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for 5 – 10 minutes, until softened. Add the chopped apples, vinegar, sugar and 1/4 cup of water. Cover with a lid and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until the apples are soft. Use a stick blender or food processor to blend to a coarse puree. Add the thyme. Refrigerate until needed.

Make ahead: Applesauce can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

To make the crostinis, slice the baguettes into thin slices on the diagonal. Arrange in a single layer on baking trays and toast under the grill (broiler) on both sides until golden.

Tip: Don’t do anything else while your crostinis are toasting. Watch them like a hawk.

Make ahead: Crostinis can be sliced and toasted up to 4 hours in advance. Keep on trays, uncovered, until needed. Covering them up will make them go soft.

To assemble the crostinis, gently reheat the apple sauce. While the applesauce is reheating, get started on the pork. Add the pork fat, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, and thyme to a large frying pan. Turn the heat on to medium and cook for a couple of minutes, until the spices are sizzling and fragrant. Add the defrosted pork, the pork stock and a big pinch of salt and pepper. (Remember you just need half the total cooked pork and stock for this quantity.)

Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook, tossing occasionally, until the pork is crisp and golden. Stay patient – the pork will start out looking a bit limp and anaemic, but it will get there.

When you’re ready to serve, arrange the toasts on a platter. Smear about 1 tbsp of the spicy applesauce on each one, then top with some of the crispy pork. Finally, sprinkle over a scant layer of rocket. Serve with some small plates and napkins to hand.

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