This recipe is one for my fictional restaurant (one day). As with any recipe there are a few things I would tweak, but that’s just because I love to fiddle with things. I’ve cooked this dish, or a version of it many times when people come round because it’s so easy to get all the work done in advance and you know how I like that. In fact, I’ve even posted a dinner party plan before with this as one of the dishes, I just hadn’t posted the recipe – until now. Pork belly was the first meat that I learnt to cook in a way which I thought was as good as I would get in a restaurant and I’ve now got so many ways of cooking it that I love – but this method was the first and for that will always one I love.
When I was 22 I spent a glorious month at the Ashburton Cookery school, an idyllic existence of cooking all day and then going for a run on the moors in the evening. Although the hills around the moors are absolute killers to run up, the views from the top are truly transporting. That kind of barren beauty that hits you deeper than you’re expecting whilst still making you feel ultimately peaceful. It was during this phenomenal period in my life that I learnt the recipe for the pork.
The celeriac puree and pickled mushrooms came later. I was practising for the amateur pop-up restaurant I was involved in and at the same time I was trying to get the sides on this dish to be just right. Celeriac has a beautiful earthy and creamy sweetness reminiscent of the love child of a Jerusalem artichoke and a potato. This dish really benefitted from the warmth and comfort of that but because the pork and the sauce are both sweet it needed a bit of a counterpunch. The sherry vinegar pickled mushrooms give just the right balance of sharpness to cut through that sweetness and the fattiness of the pork. At the pop-up restaurant we served the mushrooms with a pigeon breast, polenta and banyuls reduction. I’ve posted the recipe for the mushrooms before and you can find it here.
The celeriac purée proved a little more of a challenge to get just perfect. I knew I wanted the texture and flavour of celeriac purée as opposed to say a potato or another vegetable. However, the dish was already quite sweet and as the dish needed a little bit of spice to lift it up. However, each way I tried didn’t quite work as I wanted. I tried adding white or cayenne pepper to the celeriac, I tried infusing several different types of chilli (dried and fresh) in the milk that gets added and I even tried Szechuan pepper (Szechuan was really interesting and might work in something else). I was starting to get disheartened and was questioning if I needed to change away from celeriac. Then I remembered how we made butternut squash velouté at the pop-up restaurant. After we’d made it lovely and smooth we emulsified in beurre noisette (burnt butter) – it’s a very traditional technique and adds a delicate spice without the heat of a chilli. It was perfect for the celeriac – it’s not strictly necessary if you want to make it healthier but I think it adds a lot to the dish.
That meant all that was left was the sauce. I’d been playing around with varieties of caramel sauce and pork. In essence those sauces are a traditional sugar caramel mixed with a savoury tang, like a stock. For instance, caramel and fish sauce is a traditional pairing in Vietnam for pork belly, in fact it’s one of my favourite dishes and perhaps the topic for another blog post. However, I found that traditional sugar caramel based sauces were a little too sweet, the sauce needed a touch more lift. The answer it turned out, lay in something I’d picked up when making barbecue sauces. Barbecue sauces are a thick reduction of brown sugar with vinegar and other flavourings. However, I’d been trying to make a lighter barbecue sauce and had stumbled upon reducing apple juice until it formed a kind of caramel. When I added some of the cooking stock of the pork and a few spices and reduced again it became exactly what I was looking for, sharp and tangy with a spicy sweetness in the background. It was a sauce which could bind together the sharp mushrooms, the sweet and spicy celeriac, the unctuous pork and the salty crackling. Those kind of moments are why I cook and why I write about it and I feel privileged to share it with you.
The thing about this dish though is not just how delicious I think it is. It’s also how much it taught me about doing ahead. It is in fact a complicated dish with at least six elements, many of which require a few processes. However, the whole dish can be done in advance (see here for how I made this as part of a dinner party with the whole thing made in advance); the pork benefits from being chilled and pressed, the sauce will keep for a week, the mushrooms will keep even longer and the purée would be reheated in every restaurant worth its salt. In short, the whole meal can be cooked in five minutes. It taught me four basic principles that really help to make a dish “TimedEating” friendly, namely:
- Many meats can be cooked in advance and finished to order – especially braised meats
- All purees, even mashed potato, can and should be made in advance
- Sauces can be taken just ot the point of finishing them nad then stored for long periods. The only sauces which can’t are unstable emulsions like hollandaise or beurre blanc
- Even some vegetables, like the pickled mushrooms, benefit from cooking in advance. It is worth reflecting on whether the vegetable you’re eating is possible to cook in 10 minutes, if it’s not then it was cooked earlier and is being reheated and that’s not a bad thing.
For the mushroom recipe click here
For the Crackling recipe click here (the recipe is at the bottom – it’s the same process as the chicken crackling except you remove the pork skin after braising)
Slow Cooked Pork Belly
- 1 Pork Belly joint, bones still attached, skin not scored
- 6 onions halved and peeled
- 3 sticks celery
- 3 carrots roughly chopped
- 1/2 a garlic bulb, cloves separated and skin removed
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 3 star anise
- Handful of black peppercorns
- 1 bunch thyme
- Salt the Pork belly all over and leave to one side whilst you prepare the vegetables. Preheat the oven to 140-150 celsius
- Place the vegetables in the centre of a large roasting tray. Lay the pork skin side up on top of the vegetables. Fill the roasting tray with water so the water does not cover the skin but covers most of the belly.
- Place the aromatics (spices, herbs etc) in the water. Cover the roasting tin first with greaseproof paper and then very tightly with a double layer of foil. The greaseproof is important as otherwise the foil can stick to the pork skin. Place in the oven for 6-8 hours (I do it overnight).
- Remove the pork from the oven and leave to cool in the braising liquid. This is very important, meat that has been cooked is like a sponge that has been squeezed. As it cools it re-absorbs the braising liquid and becomes more moist and tender. Remove the bones, membrane and cartilage from the underside of the pork. Remove the skin in one piece (it should pull right off) and reserve for the crackling. Wrap the pork belly in clingfilm very tightly. Reserve the pork stock.
- Place the pork in the fridge with a heavy weight on top (this step is optional). This will press the pork and squeeze out a lot of the fat, this leaves a very dense but still moist piece of much leaner pork. Do keep the fat as it is delicious blended and served on top of toast or as fat to cook in.
- To reheat the pork, portion into the right sizes, glaze with a little reduced pork stock and place in the oven at 160 for 10 minutes.
Apple caramel and pork sauce
- 500ml apple juice
- 500 ml reserved pork stock
- Cayenne pepper to taste
- 15g butter
- Cider vinegar to taste (just a drop)
- Reduce the apple stock until it is very thick and syrupy. It will reduce to about 100ml.
- Add the pork stock and reduce until it reaches a suace consistency (about half).
- Season with salt and add the cayenne pepper to taste. At this point you can chill in the fridge for up to a week.
- Reheat if necessary, take off the heat and add the butter. If you think it needs a little more acidity add a splash or cider vinegar.
- 1 celeriac, peeled and cubed
- 1 pint whole milk
- 1 pint water
- 75g butter
- Prepare the beurre noisette by placing the butter in a saucepan over a low medium heat for approximately 7 minutes. You need to watch it closely as you are looking for the butter to separate into the solids and the ghee and then for the solids to brown. It should smell nutty but not go black and acrid.
- Place the cubed celeriac, the milk and as much water as is necessary to cover in a saucepan and place on a low-medium heat.
- Simmer the celeriac until very soft – make sure not to boil the milk as you do not want a skin forming.
- When soft, remove the celeriac and place in a blender. reserve the cooking liquor. Blend the celeriac and loosen with some of the cooking liquor until you reach the desired consistency. It should be smooth and lose without being in anyway runny. Strain and place back in the blender.
- Adjust seasoning and then add the beurre noisette whilst the blender is running. This should emulsify the beurre noisette into the purée. If your making ahead, then the beurre noisette should be emulsified in at the last minute and step one should be omitted until the beurre noisette is needed (beurre noisette does not store terribly well).