Local Hard Cider Is the Apple of Our Eye
Not just for sipping, we like to put a splash in the cooking pot and the cake pan.
When you say, “apple cider” to a child, they’re sure to picture the sweet, slightly cloudy drink sold by the jug in grocery stores, or alongside cider donuts at a pick-your-own apple orchard.
When you say “apple cider” to an adult, many will picture that same beverage, served cold or mulled with spices… but some will crave an altogether more grown-up treat: hard cider.
Hard cider can be still or sparkling, dry or sweet (or somewhere in-between), and varies in ABV from just over 1 percent to more than 12 percent. According to U.S. law, hard cider must contain more than 50 percent apple juice (compared to 100 percent in France). With the best ciders, it's the fermentation process that produces distinct flavors, not additives. Other hard cider ingredients may include flavorings like maple syrup, honey and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, or other juices like cherry, pear, or blackberry.
Hard cider is undoubtedly a great sipper with the food of fall and winter: roasted meats and vegetables; thick stews and soups; desserts redolent with brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
But what about cooking with hard cider?Just like wine, it can add acidity, sweetness, or complexity to dishes, depending on the variety you use—from rich, sweet farmhouse ciders with some carbonation to tart, cloudy Spanish still ciders. Many varieties reduce beautifully to become the heart of a sauce, or even a dessert caramel over an apple tart or plain vanilla ice cream—or both, of course!
In my kitchen, I regularly use hard cider to deglaze pans when I’m cooking pork or chicken, or to wilt and flavor sautéed greens like arugula, kale and mustard greens. If I simmer cider down to a half-volume concentrate and mix it with browned butter, it becomes a delicious drizzle for roasted squash, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, or beets. I’ve even marinated salmon in a mixture of hard cider and grainy mustard before throwing it on the grill or under a broiler. Delicious!
One important thing to remember is that the same rule applies to cooking with hard cider as to cooking with wine: don’t cook with it if you wouldn’t drink it! This gives you a great excuse to buy up a bunch of varieties and figure out which ones you enjoy most, or which ones might work best with the foods you love.
Two of my favorite cider choices actually come from the Greater Boston area: Bantam Wunderkind is a crisp, bright, lightly-sweet selection, pressed from our local apples. It’s perfectly cookable, eminently drinkable and delicious all year round. Far From The Tree Roots is a more dry, rustic, unfiltered pick with a bit of maple syrup added during the fermentation process—making it a perfect choice for pork dishes and roasted vegetables.
When you’re ready to give it a try, get started with some of my favorite foolproof recipes from around the internet. Try roasted pork tenderloin, drunken chicken or a hard cider spice cake to indulge your sweet tooth.