A winter pork belly supper


Pork and crackling ready for eating

Pork and crackling ready for eating

On Friday we had another great evening at All Saints – 60 in for baba ganoush, coq au vin, daube of beef, prune and cider fool etc). In case you hadn’t gathered we’re now open in Hereford every Friday evening for great value home-cooked dinners.

And then back at home we had a lovely bunch of people round for dinner on Saturday. Good chat & great grub. We started with sloe gin and prosecco which is my newly found best friend. A generous slug of home-made sloe gin – which we made in the autumn following the Sipsmith instructions – and topped up with prosecco in a good-sized flute. A great simple cocktail.

Then a salad of roast leeks in lemon and parsley dressing (chopped curly parsley, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, a little garlic) with roast squash and some Rosary goat’s cheese on top. We ate this at room temperature but I think doing it again I’d serve it slightly warm. The leeks, squash and parsley all came from our veg patch which I continue to feel inordinately proud of given the lack of time and attention that we give to it.

I’d tried to get hold of some beef cheeks to cook in beer but it seems that even in Herefordshire (world centre of cattle body parts) you have to order beef cheeks in advance. So I fell back on my current obsession which is belly pork with cider sauce; accompanied by mash, roast beetroot with ginger yoghurt, beet tops with butter and mustard, sweetheart cabbage. There are many wonderful things to do with pork but I think that my current desert-island pork dish would be this one.

I was going to make rhubarb bread and butter pudding but that felt a bit massive after pork belly so in the end I made meringues with apple puree (cinnamon, butter, lemon juice, apples that had been sitting in wheelbarrow with rainwater for the last 2 months), salted caramel flaked almonds and cream.

Ingredients ready for cooking for supper

Ingredients ready for cooking for supper

So here’s the recipe for the pork belly. Once you know what you’re aiming for with the flesh of the belly this is a reliably fantastic dish to serve that’s great for doing at home when you don’t want lots of last minute faff. I do this with a whole belly of pork (about 3kg including the bones) as it takes a bit of time to cook and any that you don’t use on the day heats up incredibly well either for serving as it is a second time round or for chopping up and having in soups/stir-frys/noodles etc.

At the cafes we cook the belly overnight at 105C/100% humidity but since I don’t (sadly) have a commercial combi oven at home I do the following.

Slow roast belly pork with cider and crackling

serves 8-12 depending on appetite and accompaniments

1 pork belly, rind scored, bones separated (ask your butcher to do both these things)
1 litre cider – cheap stuff is fine for this

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Put the rib bones in a large roasting tray and put the belly on top rind side uppermost. Roast for about 30 minutes until the top is beginning to brown.
  2. Add the cider, cover the tray with foil and return to the oven for about 15 minutes then turn the temperature down to 140C and leave for a further 3 to 5 hours. Check every hour or so that there is still some liquid in the roasting dish – add boiling water if the liquid is disappearing. The amount of evaporation seems to vary hugely from oven to oven. Liquids will evaporate much more quickly in a fan oven even when the roasting tray appears to be carefully covered in foil. After about 4 hours the pork belly flesh should be collapsing – you should be able to pull strands of flesh off with your fingers. If it’s still firm then leave it for longer.
  3. When the meat is ready take it out of the oven. Carefully remove the meat and bones and put on one side. Pour the liquid into a bowl and allow it to cool completely. Once the fat has solidified it’s easy to remove and discard it. If you don’t have time to let the liquid cool completely in a fridge then use a gravy separator to get rid of the fat. Once you’ve got the cidery juices without the fat put them in a pan and reduce until you’ve got a bit less than half a litre of very tasty thin sauce. Season if necessary – it probably won’t be. Leave on one side until you need it.
  4. Meanwhile, using a large knife, carefully remove the crackling (which at this point will almost certainly be soggy and un-promising) and, using some kitchen scissors, snip it into long thin strips. Put the thin pieces of crackling on a fresh roasting dish and put back in a very hot oven (200-220C). After about 10 minutes take it out, pour off any excess fat which has come off the crackling and return to the oven. Keep checking at least every five minutes (it can go from not quite done to burnt very quickly) until the crackling is very nearly as crisp as you will want it – you’re going to return to the oven for 5 minutes just before serving the pork.
  5. Portion the pork (between 8 and 12 rectangular chunks for a whole 3kg belly) and cut up the ribs and then refrigerate it all until about 20 minutes before you want to eat.
  6. About 15 minutes before you’re ready to eat (or longer if the you’ve stored the portioned meat in the fridge) but the belly and bones back in the oven at 180c. When the meat has nearly heated through put the crackling on top. Meanwhile put the cider juices back on the heat. In about five more minutes the whole lot will be ready to serve. Give each person a couple of ribs, a pit of belly, a few bits of crackling and some sauce and watch happiness grow around the table.

Ps. If this seems like too much bother we’ve currently got roast belly pork on the lunchtime menu at All Saints.

Crumbly, buttery shortbread – to lemon or not to lemon?

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I’ve always been doubtful about shortbread but in the last couple of weeks I’ve become a true believer. Shortbread is such a simple thing that, a bit like a tomato salad, it can either be a thing of exciting beauty or something dull and pointless. This recipe, if made carefully, is buttery, delicate and crumbly – and extremely more-ish. (The version is adapted very slightly from Felicity Cloake’s excellent Guardian column that compares lots of versions of things and then comes up with a recommendation)

The only question that remained is whether at the cafes we should serve classic buttery shortbread or a zesty lemon version. For a week we served both lemon and classic shortbread and the plain (classic) version was the clear winner – we sold nearly twice as many of them. But the great thing is that at home you don’t have to be guided by the majority verdict – the choice is yours.

To ensure that your shortbread is always perfect:

  1. Use plain flour not a strong white bread flour – I didn’t think this really mattered until I tried both and compared them
  2. make sure the butter is really soft before beating it with the sugar
  3. don’t be tempted to omit the ground rice. It adds a delicious nubbly texture which is perfect for shortbread.
  4. don’t overwork the dough
  5. chill the biscuits before baking

Christmas and shortbread 012To make about 22 biscuits

250g salted butter, very soft but not melted
(if using unsalted butter then add 1/4 tsp of salt to the flour)
125g caster sugar
285g plain flour
90g ground rice
extra caster sugar for sprinkling at the end

To make the lemon shortbread just add the very finely grated zest of 2 lemons to the flour mixture before mixing with the sugar/butter mix.

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 130C (fan oven – 150C for a non-fan oven)
  1. Put the very soft butter and the caster sugar into a large mixing bowl, and beat with handheld electric mixer until very soft and fluffy.
  1. Add the flour and ground rice and mix swiftly with a large spoon so it is beginning to come together. Then use your hands to pull it together into one blob.
  1. Roll the dough out to just under 1cm thick and cut out rounds 7cm diameter cookie cutter. Do not use extra flour when rolling out the dough. Re-use leftover dough until it’s all used. Put cookies on to baking sheets on baking parchment, leaving a little space between in each one.
  1. Refrigerate for 30 mins before baking.
  1. Bake for 50 minutes until cooked but not brown. Leave on the tray for 2 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack and sprinkle with caster sugar. I find that sifting the caster sugar through a tea strainer makes it easier to do an even coating. Store in tins with baking parchment between layers.

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