My wife showed me some pictures my youngest sister posted on Facebook last night. She and her husband (check that; her husband – my youngest sister is married. How old am I?) treated themselves to a trip to The Fat Duck, home of the food wizard-cum-scientist Heston Blooming-utter-nutter-thal or whatever his name is.
She noted that the menu took about three hours to get through, which it should do given it’s £200-a-head. The pictures of the food items looked very familiar – and they are to many foodies of course because you see them on TV – whisky jellies, snail porridge (which looked alarmingly green – I mean like fluorescent green), various foams, foggy mist-like creations and so on.
Heston Blumenthal is an interesting character – well known over here in Blightly; elsewhere I don’t know. He is the antithesis of the better known Gordon Ramsay. Where ‘G’ is a shouty, sweary cartoon-like creation, Hessie is more menacing – shaven-headed, thick rimmed spectacles, piercing stare.
But my personal preference in the celebrity cook stakes is Tom Kerridge. A man mountain, Kerridge cooks things that I can relate to – food you can find in a gastropub. Things like bacon joints braised in maple syrup, carrots cooked in loads of salt, butter and sugar…you get the idea.
But just because it’s food that you understand, and looks like something you recognise, doesn’t make it any easier to cook. Oh no. Try pork belly.
Now the secret to cooking a nice piece of pork belly is to get the meat and fat all tender and melt-in-the mouth, but with a super crunchy-yet-chewy crackling skin. This is making me hungry just writing about it.
Not as straightforward as it sounds. Mr Kerridge recommends marinating the pork belly in brine for a day. Now I did this but made a fatal error. I allowed the brine to cover the skin. That meant that I couldn’t get the skin to crisp up. And being obstinate I left the joint in the oven for so long that I managed to dry out the meat. And ended up having to remove the skin and grill it to get it to ‘crackle’.
What a palava.
So, undaunted I decided to try again. This time I created a different marinade. I also took a tip from the BBC food website on getting the skin to crackle. Here’s how it went…
Fragrant Crispy Pork Belly with Parsnip Puree
For the pork
- 2 lbs pork belly, rind on
- ½ cup rice wine
- ½ cup sherry
- 3 tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp Chinese five spice
- 1 thumb sized piece of ginger
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 3 tbsp honey
For the mash
- 4 or 5 small potatoes
- 3 or 4 parsnips
- ¼ pint of warm milk (or cream if you want to say ‘Hey, what the crap, I’ve given up caring’)
- Bunch of chives, chopped
This version of crispy pork belly works. First score the rind. Then place on a rack over the sink and pour boiling water all over the skin, straight from the kettle; this will make the skin shrink, aiding the crisping process.
Put the pork in a large ceramic or plastic dish rind side up and pat dry the top with some paper towels.
Combine all the marinade ingredients. Pour around the meat, but don’t let it touch the skin. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.
Remove the pork from the marinade. Trim the pork so that you have a nice, neat square of meat!
Place the pork on a rack over a tray, and season well.
Cook in the oven at about 160 centigrade for 2 ½ to 3 hours or until the skin starts to bubble…
Bake the potatoes. Roast the parsnips. Remove the potato skins and mash in a pan with the parsnips. Cream with the milk, season and add the chives.
Meanwhile simmer down the marinade in a small pan to make a thick sauce.
To serve; get a large deep dish (like a pasta plate).
Dollop some mash into a food ring in the centre.
Remove the ring.
Cut the pork into squares and place one on the mash.
Drizzle the sauce round the mash. Serve with beer!
You see, you have your three basic food groups right there; crispy pork crackling, melting pork fat and fall-off-the-bone pork meat. No problems.