I am an unreserved fan of the restaurant Ceviche on Frith Street in SoHo, London. I love pretty much everything about it – the huge jars of flavoured pisco (my favourite is the figs and vanilla), their amazingly smooth pisco sours and of course the food, oh the food. They cook peruvian food and they cook it very well. For those who haven’t had peruvian food before, it’s full of strong flavours – unsurprisingly the menu is full of ceviche – lots of fresh, raw seafood kissed by citrus juices, chilli and sugar until they go opaque and tender and utterly moreish. However, ceviche isn’t just seafood and one of the dishes caught my eye (and my tastebuds) as something which exemplifies the idea of “how did they get that dish onto the plate within 5 minutes of me ordering it” – the dish in question… Pork belly with confit figs, crackling, sweet potato puree and a sticky glaze made with pisco and lime juice
It’s a lovely little dish, with five different elements and it was on the plate in five minutes. We don’t really think about the kind of work that requires in the kitchen, it’s not just cooking it, it’s the organisation required to have all of the dishes that need to be made ready in time and going to the right people. Having tried to run it, it’s not as easy as it might seem!!
However, let’s look at the five elements of the dish. We have sweet potato puree, braised pork belly, crackling, confit figs and a glaze. Each separate element would take at least half an hour (some many hours) to cook from scratch. However, this dish will most probably be put together by one chef at the last minute (a la minute). They can do this because each element has been cooked until it’s almost done.
The sweet potato puree will have been cooked by either simmering the potato in liquid (probably dairy) and then blitzing, or by sweating the sweet potato until it’s soft, adding liquid (again probably dairy) and blitzing before passing through a sieve to create a lovely smooth puree. This might have been done the previous day even and then reheated with a little of the same liquid, re-seasoned and put on the plate. Restaurants do the same thing with every puree, including mash, and you can do it at home too. You don’t have to make mashed potato by frantically mashing whilst you hope the rest of your meal doesn’t go cold or overcook!
The figs and pork belly will have been cooked in advance. The pork belly most likely braised in stock and aromatics for a long slow cook, it may then have been cooled and pressed to remove some of the fat and then portioned into small cubes, and the skin removed to make the crackling. The pork belly could be done days in advance of actually being needed, though in a restaurant they probably use so much that they don’t have to keep very long. The figs were confited until glorious, sticky and soft – possibly in olive oil. These figs will be stored in the fat they’ve been cooked in for weeks. Both the figs and the pork belly will be placed on the skewers and stored in the fridge ready for service.
The skin for the crackling will have been cut into the strips (either before or after braising it). Then placed in a hot oven until crisp – they will stay crisp in an airtight container for days.
The glaze is a reduction – I’m not sure what’s in it but if I had to guess chili, spices, pisco, lime juice and sugar reduced until thick and syrupy. Again this will keep.
So when they come to put it on a plate, it’s as simple as having a red hot grill on which to put the skewer that’s been slathered with glaze until the skewer is a little charred, sticky and glorious. Meanwhile, Warming the puree, putting it on the plate with the skewer and the crackling, a little extra glaze – Bob’s your uncle – five minutes from order to plate or if at home, only five minutes away from the table!