Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Crackly roast pork belly with apple stuffing

This recipe aims to produce slow-cooked, crumbly, soft, moist, melt-in-the-mouth pork with hard crispy crackling. It's what we have for Christmas dinner each year! It can take all day, or about 4 hours in a speeded-up version.


Belly pork joint (with skin, but with bones removed -  keep them for stock if you can)

For Apple stuffing

2 apples
2 cabbage leaves
1 small onion or shallot
2 cloves garlic
1 egg
4 tbsp breadcrumbs
2 tbsp couscous or semolina
1 tsp porridge oats
2 tbsp chopped celery
2 tbsp chopped celery leaves
sage (fresh, frozen, or dried)
1 tsp mixed herbs
A few drops of Worcestershire sauce
Plenty of sea salt and pepper
a dash of madeira or sherry (optional)

Boil a kettle than pour the boiling water over the pork joint in the sink, letting the water run away. This will wash the pork and make the skin contract a little. paradoxically, pouring water over it is is the first stage in ultimately drying it out as much as possible. (Now wash the sink since you've had raw pork in there). Score the surface to the skin in a criss-cross pattern with a sharp knife if this hasn't been done already by the butcher, and cover with a generous amount of salt.

Place the joint in a dish in which it fits as tightly as possible, with the skin facing up and exposed to the air. Place the dish on a work surface on top of an ice pack, and allow to sit for a few hours (I usually do this first thing in the morning, and start cooking around midday. The idea is to allow the skin to dry out by exposing it to the air, which not allowing the meat to sit at room temperature for too long. If you have somewhere cool like a larder for this stage this would be ideal, but remember you need to keep it away from pets, insects, and other marauders, and you should resist the temptation to put it outside in the snow or in your shed. When the time comes to start cooking, scrape off the salt, which will have absorbed some of the moisture. The crackling would be too salty if you leave it all on.

Now make the stuffing.

Peel, core and chop the apple into small pieces. Chop the onion, garlic and celery into small pieces. Chop the sage, if fresh. Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and combine well. The final consistency should be like a loose putty. Add more couscous or breadcrumbs for a drier consistency; wine or water for less; more egg for binding. It can be fairly dry, as it will absorb lots of juice and fat from the pork during cooking. The ingredients here can be added to or varied quite widely, as long as you end up with the right consistency.

Short cut: instead of stuffing, use slices of fresh apple and onion. At the end, mash them together and serve as a hot apple sauce

Put the stuffing in the bottom of the roasting dish, and lay the pork on top of it. This works best if you have a roasting dish which the pork just fits on, otherwise the edges of the stuffing will burn. One option is to construct a foil base with sides to protect the stuffing from too much direct heat. Heat the grill to a high temperature. (If you don't have a grill, heat the oven very hot.) Be patient and wait for it to heat up properly. Put the dish on a rack in the middle of the oven, not too close to the grill, perhaps 10-15cm away. Cook for 10-20 minutes, depending on how effective your grill is, until the skin is browned but not blackened. Turn off the grill and place the pork in a warm oven at around 140 degrees C for around 4-6 hours, or a higher temperature for a shorter cooking time. Baste the skin occasionally with fat from the pork that will accumulate in the pan, and check that the stuffing isn't burning at the edges. For the last 20 minutes of the cooking time, turn the oven high. Remove the pork from the oven when done and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Take it off the stuffing and place on some tin foil, which can be wrapped around the sides to keep the meat warm, but don't cover the crackling. Put the stuffing back in the oven while the meat is resting, so that it browns a little. Carve the meat and serve!

Serve with thick gravy made from pork stock, along with mashed potato, steamed cabbage and carrots. I usually make the stock with pork bones and vegetables the day before, and  steam the vegetables while the pork is resting.

Match with a light burgundy, or a strong white wine, such as a Rueda.

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