The great pork belly conquest

(Written 16th Jan)

Once again the week has been a blur of work and interviews and catching up with friends after Christmas.  The one night I have had in the house I was so exhausted I have to shamefully confess to resorting to beans on toast for dinner.  That doesn’t however mean that I haven’t been eating like a queen on some occasions and trying lots of new things including my highlight of the week a fresh scotch egg – I can’t say it was made in my own kitchen but it was the first time I had tried one – it was absolutely delicious and I ended up ordering another round as one was just not enough.

These posts are all slightly out of order – 2 weekends ago the kitchen turned into a full on sweatshop as I cranked out recipe after recipe.  Highlights were the beetroot soup from Delicious magazine – it was tasty but if I am honest not worth the hours of preparation and having every wall and surface in the kitchen semi-permanently tinged with pink.

In order to line my stomach on the Saturday night I whizzed up a Greek style spinach pie.  It is a great way of using up left overs – simply melt butter in a pan with some garlic, add spinach, feta cheese pine nuts and a beaten egg and cook on the hob until the feta begins to melt and the ingredients blend together.  Then put the mixture in ready rolled raw puff pastry and fold over creating sort of Cornish pasty shape – then just blast in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the pastry is golden.

I woke up on the Sunday morning (pork belly day) with an absolutely monstrous hang over and having had very little sleep – fortuitously I had had the presence of mind to set an alarm before passing out at 6am the night before – even in my inebriation I knew I had to start on the pork belly at 10am!  Having consulted literally hundreds of recipe books and websites for the best and simplest way to make pork belly I decided to loosely follow the version in Bill Ganger’s ‘Bill’s basics’ cookbook.

The first task was to deeply score the fat on the pork belly – as someone relatively new to cooking meat and more pertinently someone who was viciously hung-over; my queasiness meant this was slightly beyond me.  Step in one heroic fiancé who did all the unpleasant part for me.  I then rubbed the whole thing, particularly the scores with salt and placed the pork belly in a roasting tin with a couple of bay leaves, orange peel and garlic cloves as well as one centimetre of cold water.  This then went in the oven at 14o degrees C for the next three hours and I gratefully went back to bed.

After three hours I turned the heat right up to 220 and blasted the belly for 25 minutes to make the crackling crispy – the smell was fantastic.  During the last blast I rustled up a celeriac mash and red cabbage stewed with raisins and balsamic vinegar.  I then removed the pork belly from the oven, separated the crackling and pit it under the grill for one final blast and crisping and then did a quick gravy by adding white wine to the juices in the pan and reducing.  My brother who was visiting to try the experiment gave me the greatest compliment a cook in our family could ever receive by saying the crackling was even better than my mum’s (MP if you are reading this – I am sure he was just being polite – no one could beat your pork belly).  We took a quick picture and then tucked in with lots of apple sauce (shop bought – there is only so much one can chef from scratch post a serious vodka binge).

Trust me - this picture does not do justice to how delicious it was!

So another lovely tick box in the meats I can now master the cooking of.  However never one to shy away from a challenge the next task I have set myself is a jugged hare dinner party in a couple of weeks’ time (the carcass is currently in the freezer having been shot by a friend and masterfully butchered by the fiancé!)  Not only is this an entirely new meat that I have never cooked with before But I have also invited several people over for dinner to sample it – no pressure then!

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