15 ways to use apple cider to amp up savory autumn dishes

Apple cider is perfect for fall sipping — but did you know you can cook with it, too?

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published October 13, 2022 4:15PM (EDT)

A cup of hot apple cider, caramel apple and apple pie surrounded by fresh fruits (Getty Images/og-vision)
A cup of hot apple cider, caramel apple and apple pie surrounded by fresh fruits (Getty Images/og-vision)

For some, apple cider is merely apple juice's oft-neglected step-sibling, or perhaps something to wash down those wondrous apple cider donuts. For others, apple cider is a unique elixir that represents a world of rich, autumnal flavors, encompassing beverages and cocktails, desserts and savory foods, and everything in between. If you're unacquainted with ciders, wondering what differentiates it from apple juice, or have yet to utilize cider in a savory capacity, look no further!

What's the difference between cider and juice?

Apple cider is often darker and sometimes even thicker, while apple juice is translucent. This is because apple cider is fresh, often made in the fall-time, and unfiltered. Apple juice is filtered, pasteurized, and often processed, which is why you can buy apple juice year-round — which is certainly not the case for apple cider. Apple cider lasts just over a week in the fridge and should be enjoyed immediately after purchasing. 

Apple juice is also sometimes sweetened above-and-beyond the apple's natural, inherent sweetness, as well as including preservatives. Apple cider is also a raw product and is minimally processed. In addition, some unpasteurized apple cider can even ferment over time. Did you know: if you do not consume your apple cider within two weeks, it may begin to turn to either apple cider vinegar or alcoholic cider, or just generally go bad?

Be mindful, also — some companies sell the same product interchangeably, but in most cases, it's clear how to differentiate between the two beverages. Some establishments also sell a spiced apple cider, which is just like normal apple cider, but elevated with mulling spices to help further flavor the drink and give that special fall je ne se quoi. (Of course, steer clear of using a spiced apple cider in the bulk of these savory concepts, which would certainly muddle the flavor profiles). 

How to use apple cider in savory applications

Celebrate the best of autumn with these apple cider enriched dishes!

Whip up a savory apple cider caramel

Enjoy this like a Vietnamese-spiced caramel that's tossed with hot, fried chicken, in which the apple flavor adds a levity that doesn't otherwise come through. If you're a heat seeker, feel free to throw in some chile flakes or actual chiles for a really special bite. To make, carefully toss together apple cider, brown sugar, cream, salt and some unsalted butter, cooking it down until it's thickened and almost jammy. Conversely, use the apple cider caramel as a base in coffee drinks or drizzled over desserts. Toss it with coconut flakes and chocolate for a Samoas-esque treat, or add some flaky sea salt for a crave-worthy salted apple cider caramel that'd be terrific tossed with fresh, hot popcorn. 

Cook an elevated fall soup
This is certainly a step up from canned! Cook your favorite vegetable (rutabaga, fennel, celery, leek, celeriac) in a mix of half stock and half cider. When tender, use an immersion blender to puree the cooked vegetables into the cooking liquid, continue to cook over medium heat until thickened and rich. When ready, serve it up in hot bowls garnished with frizzled leeks, crème fraîche and subtly sweet lump crab.
Create an elegant, rich pan sauce

You'll be stunned by how viscous and rich this is. Sauté your protein of choice in a flat, heavy-bottomed skillet; skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs would be a great option here. When perfectly browned, remove to a plate, and add a finely minced shallot to the skillet. When translucent, add apple cider and white wine and reduce by half. Add stock or broth of your choosing, reduce by half again, and then add a touch of cream and a few pats of butter. Cook over low heat until thickened and beautifully bronzed. 

Make a bright, plucky vinaigrette
Apple cider is an amazing acidic element. In a mason jar or shallow bowl, stir together equal parts honey and Dijon mustard, drizzling in apple cider. Begin to add the oil of your choice, continually stirring, until well emulsified. Season with salt and pepper and dress mixed greens or the leaves of your choice. 
Enjoy a deeply crisped, flavorful stuffing

Make your usual stuffing or dressing recipe, but instead of adding milk, water, broth, or stock, use only apple cider. This will add amazing flavor to your stuffing but also won't make it soggy, allowing for an extra crisping under the broiler, if you wish. 

Baste an amazingly moist (and flavorful) turkey
Once you've brined, seasoned, trussed, or otherwise prepared your turkey, add it to a roasting tray over an assortment of roughly chopped vegetables and aromatics. Add a mix of white wine, cider, broth, or stock to the bottom of the tray (don't get it on the turkey itself), and this will help keep the turkey moist as it cooks, lend an amazing aroma, and season the vegetables underneath the turkey, which will also mix with the natural turkey drippings. 
Make a unique, autumnal baked pasta dish
You can aim for a macaroni-and-cheese (with apple cider) type-vibe or a more immediately Italian-American energy with a Bechemel of sorts that's flavored with apple cider. The subtle sweetness will blend well with the savory notes (and all of the cheese), making this fall pasta a welcome treat for the whole family, no matter if you're using ziti, rigatoni, manicotti or cannelloni. P.S. don't forget the freshly ground nutmeg to really round out the dish and add a complementary note for the cider. 
Use as a braising liquid in pulled pork

Using a pork butt or shoulder, along with aromatics, vegetables, herbs, and spices, swap out water or stock for cider, which will help to permeate the pork with a bright, sweet flavor and also make the meat super-tender. Enjoy in sandwiches, over nachos, in tacos, or crisped up on the stovetop before being enjoyed over a brightly dressed cabbage salad. 

Flavor a retro fondue
There may be no "party food" more genuinely fun and enjoyable than fondue with all the fixins'. Opt for a gruyere or fontina fondue with apple cider as the primary liquid, garnish with lots of finely chopped chives, and serve with apples (duh), pumpernickel bread, raw carrots and celery, poached or roasted chicken or other proteins, boiled potatoes, tortilla chips, crackers or pita bread. 
Diversify chicken and dumplings

A top tier cozy dish, chicken and dumplings will benefit from apple cider in both the dumping dough and the gravy or sauce itself. This one is a real winner — trust us. 

Pair with butternut squash, lots of cheddar and a touch of cream

In a super hot oven, roast butternut squash with garlic and onions until tender and slightly browned. Toss into a pot with apple cider and stock, cook down a bit, carefully transfer to a high-speed blender or Vitamix, blend away, return to the pot and add cream, salt and pepper. Serve soup in large bowls garnished with a mountain of freshly grated cheddar cheese and big hunks of crusty bread. 

Use to steam shellfish

One of the simplest food preparations in the world is easily elevated with apple cider. Take a pound or two of your favorite shellfish, such as mussels or clams, toss them in a big ol' pot with garlic, onions, and a half-and-half mixture of broth or stock and apple cider. Throw in some clam juice or fish sauce, cover with a lid, and let steam until the shellfish open up, revealing their insides and adding their "liquor" to the simmering liquid. 

Enjoy in risotto
Grab some rice (arborio or Carnaroli), an onion, some wine, and a ton of cider. Cut up the onion until the pieces are about the size of a grain of rice. In a large pot, warm some oil and begin heating up your onions until just translucent - you want no color here. Add the rice and toast it, then add the wine and cook down, reducing until dry, before adding ladlefuls of warmed apple cider. Continue this dance, adding and stirring and adding and stirring, until the risotto is smooth and creamy. The cider is helping to coax the starches out of each grain. Once you've reached this 'all'onda' (or wave) stage, add some handfuls of grated Parm, a drizzle of oil, and a few pats of butter and voila, you have an amazing meal ahead of you. 
Use to flavor granola
Apple is an inherently perfect pair for granola, so when making granola at home, toss the oats and nuts with an egg white, a splash or two of apple cider and a drizzle of maple syrup or honey before roasting until deeply browned and crisp. Let cool and store in an airtight container to enjoy over yogurt. 
Enjoy in pot pies or shepherd's pie

Add a touch of apple cider to the gravy mixture, the dough itself or the root vegetable mash, and appreciate the alluring look on your guests' faces as they try to figure out that slight, autumnal flavor emanating from each bite. 

You know what they say — an apple (cider) a day! 

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By Michael La Corte

Michael is a food writer, recipe editor and educator based in his beloved New Jersey. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, he worked in restaurants, catering and supper clubs before pivoting to food journalism and recipe development. He also holds a BA in psychology and literature from Pace University.

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