Friday 9 January 2015

Roast Pork Belly with Apple and Blue Cheese

I can’t even express how much more upbeat I become when the days start to make that noticeable shift towards getting longer again. Sunset at 4pm? No friggin’ thank you. I’m a firm supporter of the Human Hibernation Movement. Which, if it isn’t a thing, totally should be. Seriously, what are our politicians doing? Voice of the people my ass. But now that we’re into January, I’m already feeling more warmly disposed to the whole concept of, you know, getting out of bed.

Unfortunately, the weather isn’t similarly inclined. So it’s been cold. Wet and cold. And it will only continue to get colder. Wetter and colder. Hurraaaaay…

But lousy weather does have its upsides. It makes a great excuse to fire up the oven (or as I like to call it, The Ol’ Kitchen Heater).

Enter this brilliant Autumn or Winter recipe. I had a vague idea for this a couple of months ago, but the first draft was really lacking (read: it sucked). Which is unsurprising seeing as I basically dumped sliced potatoes and apples around a lump of pork and hoped for the best. Sorry, did I say basically? I meant literally.

But then the other day I was using up some cheeses that were in the fridge. When I got to a blue cheese, I was a little stumped. The first bite is always fine, but then it just gets difficult to keep going. The flavour is all up in your grill, and I can’t really handle it. Looking for something to soften the overpowering tang, my eyes trailed off towards the fruit bowl. And I was all “Bingo! Apples and blue cheese. That’s a thing, right?”.

Yes, past me. Yes it most certainly is.

Although the recipe is, as always, my own creation, a hat-tip towards Kenji over at The Food Lab is most definitely in order. His breakdown of how to get the world’s best crackling was the basis for how I roasted the pork belly, before adding the twist of surrounding it with apple and potato to keep the flesh from drying. The result is a piece of meat so tender that it would fall apart, if it wasn’t attached to that crisp, crunchy, yet somehow also juicy and chewy, amazing pork crackling.

I think I need a tissue.

Drooling on your keyboard, huh?

Ehhhh… yeah. Let’s go with that.

1) Slash and salt the skin of a pork belly, then roast it in a very slow oven for an hour and a half, basting twice.

2) Grate some potatoes, slice up a couple of apples and mix with honey and walnuts.

3) Spoon the mix around the sides of the pork, continue roasting for another hour or so, stirring occasionally.

4) Remove dish from the oven before turning it up as high as it goes. Blast for 5-10 mins, to crisp.

5) Soften a sliced onion in butter, add plenty of cream, then blue cheese. Stir until melted.

6) When pork is rested, serve sliced with the blue cheese sauce poured over everything.

Absolutely stellar. The cheese, apple, walnut and pork flavours all go together like nobody’s business.

Sorry, but no dinner is worth 3 hours of effort.

I respectfully disagree. But with this meal, it’s not as though it’s 3 hours of hard labour. You can literally walk away for an hour at the beginning. There’s barely 30 minutes of work here, the rest is really just waiting. This meal doesn’t take effort, so much as planning. It’s perfect for a lazy weekend, letting you put your feet up and read a book while basking in the warmth from the oven.

As usual, keep reading for a detailed walkthrough. You’ll be cooking fancy-ass food in no time.

Ingredients (serves 4) - €16

For the Roast:
  • ~1.2kg boneless pork belly, skin on
  • 1 tsp salt (heaped, if coarse)
  • 700g potatoes (about 4 decent ones)
  • 2 decent apples
  • 60g walnuts
  • 1 tbsp honey

For the Sauce:
  • 20g butter
  • 1 onion
  • 180ml cream
  • 60g blue cheese (I used Danish Blue, which is fairly mild. Feel free to Roquefort it up if you’re big on blue)

You’ll need a grater with big holes. And a large oven dish. Like, large large. It has to fit the pork, with space around it for the potato and apple mix.

    Turn the oven on to 120ºC. In fancy cooking lingo, this is known as a very slow oven. This is in no way related to the speed at which it learns new things, rather the speed at which it cooks the stuff you cram in it. This seems stupidly low, but that’s because we’re going to slow roast this hunk of pork to perfection. Slow roasting pork can often take the best part of a day, but with a relatively small and thin piece such as this pork belly, you can do it in about 3 hours.

    Score the rind on the pork belly with a sharp knife. You want to cut about halfway into the fat, not all the way down to the meat. This both helps the rendering (melting) of the fat, which keeps everything moist, and makes it easier to cut the meat at the end. I like to do it crosshatch, cause it’s all fancy like. Rub the rind with salt to flavour it and encourage crisping, then lay it on your large oven dish, rind side up. That’s it. That’s all you need to do with the pork. Now just put it in the oven as it is.

    After an hour, take it out and spoon the juices in the dish over the pork a few times. Put it back in the oven for another half an hour. In that time, you can prepare the potatoes and the apples. These will make a sort of stuffing but with potatoes as the base instead of breadcrumbs. And it’s not actually going to be stuffed in anything. Unless you count your face.

    Scrub your potatoes well and trim off any dodgy looking bits. Now it’s time to grate them. Potatoes are notoriously hard to grate without accidentally seasoning with your own shredded knuckles, so be careful. If you happen to have one of those plastic doohickeys that grips the end of the spud to keep your fingers safe, then congratulations! You’re finally going to have an actual excuse to use the damn thing! If you’re a sane person who doesn’t spend their nights watching infomercials, a neat trick is to stick a pair of corn on the cob holders (or a fork) in one end at an angle and grip those.

    Once your potatoes are all grated, dump them onto a tea-towel and pat them to soak up the starchy moisture. Although they don’t need to be totally dry, too wet and they’ll turn completely to mush when they cook. After that, stick them in a nice big mixing bowl.

    Slice each of the fleshy cheeks off your apples, and just eat the core. Because that’s a thing you can do! Lay the apple pieces flat side down and slice thinly. Roughly chop your walnuts, and throw them and the apple slices into the bowl with the potatoes. Add the honey and mix well. The honey gives a subtle sweetness that goes really well with pork (glazed ham, anyone?) and also walnuts. The apples will also provide sugar, but with a different flavour.

    Now that the pork has been cooked for that extra half an hour, take it out and baste it with the juices once more. Spoon the raw mix all around the pork belly, but not on top of it. You want to leave the rind exposed, as you shield the meat. Gently stir the mixture so that the delicious melted pork fat gets all over the potato, apple and walnuts. And yes, I really did just tell you to grease up your nuts. Avoid squashing it down (the mix, not your nuts. Although avoid squashing those too, kinda goes without saying). You grated the potatoes so that they’re less dense, and can cook easier. Compacting it sorta defeats the purpose. And then you’d feel pretty stupid, wouldn’t you?

    Slide the dish back in the oven and continue to cook for another 60-80 minutes. Just stir the potato mix (I really need a name for that) every half hour or so to keep it from getting too dried out on top. It’s good practice to rotate what’s on top when porking, er, cooking with pork, for long periods.

    Have a taste of the potato and see if it’s fully cooked. It should be nice and tender, but not gone so far as to be a mush. At this point, take it out of the oven. All that’s left to do with it is to get the pork crackling perfect, because right now the skin will be looking a lot like leather. So crank up the oven to as high as it’ll go, which for me was 250ºC. Wait for the oven to pre-heat before whacking the dish back in there.

    Now watch. At first, nothing will happen. But then after about 5 minutes, the extreme heat will cause steam pockets to expand under the surface of the rind. The skin will expand into bubbles, which then harden into thin, crispy crackling. It’s just like magic, only it’s called science and it’s even more rad. Take the pork out when it’s covered in bubbles, but before either it or the potato starts to burn. Keep a close eye on it. 10 minutes in the oven is a good guide. Cover the pork and leave it to rest. Switch off the oven and warm your plates in it, once it’s cool enough.

    While the meat rests, make a blue cheese sauce. Finely slice the onion and fry it gently in the butter until it’s completely soft and edging towards caramelisation. Pour in the cream, let it heat, then add the blue cheese, crumbled up so it melts faster. Once it’s fully melted, have a taste. Add more blue cheese if it’s too mild for you, or more cream if it’s too strong.

    Carve the pork and serve with the… stuffing… stuff. Absolutely smother everything in the sauce. Now that, is some fancy-ass food.

(I actually had to flip the above image, because I’d taken the photo with the fork on the right hand side of the plate. Which I’m pretty sure is a disownable offence with my Mum.

A note on the crackling you see in the pictures. Although it was amazing as it was, I could have left it in the oven for another minute or two longer to get some more bubbles. I was a little nervous that it was going to burn, but I shouldn’t have worried, as it was totally fine.

Leftover pork and stuffing makes an awesome filling for sandwiches, so don’t worry if it looks like you’ve made “too much”. Pro tip: there’s no such thing)

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe I haven't come across your blog before, this is wonderful! You write so wittily and your images are beautiful and the recipes really interesting as well! Made some roasted pork belly in january and it was DEFINITELY worth the "effort" (a comfortable oven-side book reading wait). Stunning!