Tuesday, 22 November 2011

P is for... Pork belly, pumpkin puree, parsnips and pickled pears with a port reduction

Pork belly, parsnips, pickled pears, pumpkin puree and Port reduction.

Pork belly is a cheap cut that's been making it big in posh restaurants everywhere. That's the beauty of pork belly, it's just such a versatile beast. It's as happy being the centrepiece of a homely Sunday roast, as it is spiced up with chillies, star anise, ginger and soy for a casual weeknight Chinese red-cooked pork with friends. The lavish layers of fat make for meltingly tender meat, and, when paired with generously salted, crunchy crackling, create a show-stopping supper. I always ask my butcher to score the fat for me, but you can do it yourself with a stanley knife if that's the kind of thing you're into. Pouring boiling water straight from the kettle over the skin, before discarding the water, patting the meat dry with kitchen paper and cooking it any which way you choose, will ensure your crackling is suitably crackly. For a hassle free weekend lunch for a full table of guests, there's nothing easier than roasting it simply for a few hours, while you get on with cleaning the loo and laying the table before your doorbell rings. On P night, oven space would have been too tight and too tricky to let a big belly monopolise it for that long a time, so I opted for twice cooked pork belly; a favourite way of chefs to prepare the meat as it makes for neater presentation, especially if you weight it overnight.

Pork belly (twice cooked)

1 large onion, sliced
10 cloves of garlic
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
A couple of bay leaves
2 k pork belly, ribs removed but kept
1 litre of fresh chicken stock
1 large glass of white wine
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 250°C (230°C fan)

Place the onion, herbs and garlic at the bottom of a roasting tin and place the pork belly, skin side up, on top. Generously season the pork skin and pour the wine and stock into the pan. Place in a preheated super hot oven for 20 minutes. Take the pork out and turn the oven down to 160°C (140°C fan). Cover the pork with a layer of baking parchment and a layer of foil, tucking the pork in as if you're putting it to bed. Pop it back in the oven for about 4 hours or until very tender. Leave the pork to cool in its cooking juices. Once cold, remove the pork belly and place on a tray with two big pieces of cling film draped over it in the shape of a cross. Place the pork in the middle and wrap it up in the cling film. Place another tray on top and place heavy weights on top - tins of beans or even a couple of bricks if you happen to have them lying around. Press the weights on top of the pork down so it lies flat and, with the weights still on top, pop the pork in the fridge overnight. The next day, remove the pork from the fridge 40 minutes before you want to serve it and ten minutes before plating up, trim the belly into a neat rectangle before dividing it into even portions. When you are ready to cook it, preheat the grill to its hottest setting, then heat a large skillet with plenty of olive oil over a very high flame. Place the pieces of pork belly skin side up into the skillet and cook, basting the top with the oil, for about 5 minutes before sticking the pan under the grill until the crackling crackles. Plate up with the pumpkin purée, roasted parsnips and pickled pears before pouring over some Port reduction. 

Pumpkin purée

Many people, myself often included, can be put off pumpkins and squashes because they're such a faff to peel. Well, come closer, people, because this dish requires no peeling whatsoever.

1 medium pumpkin
Olive oil
A few garlic cloves
Double cream

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)

Chop the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and place each half on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and fill the cavities with garlic cloves (there's no need to peel them). Sprinkle over some salt and pepper and pop them in the oven for around 40 minutes or until soft and until. Discard the garlic and scoop out the flesh with a spoon and place it in liquidiser with a generous splash of cream and a knob of butter. Once puréed, transfer the mixture to a saucepan over a low flame, generously season and stir until the mixture becomes velvety and some of the moisture has evaporated off. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper, cream and butter if necessary and leave in the pan to reheat just before serving.


I love parsnips. Especially roasted parsnips. Is there a vegetable more delicious alongside a plate of roasted meat, than a parsnip? No. There isn't. This isn't much of a recipe, so I'm not going to give you a list of ingredients, but I'd usually allow 1 to 1 and a half parsnips per person, but more than that will always be welcome if your guests have any sense. Peel them, slice them in half lengthways and parboil them in salted water. Drain and place back in their saucepan with a glug of olive oil and a knob of butter. Swish the pan round and pour the parsnips along with the oil and butter on to a baking tray, season and roast in a preheated oven at 180°C (160°C fan) for 35-40 minutes, or until the parsnips are soft and golden.

Pickled pears

The spicy acidity of the vinegar works brilliantly alongside the sweetness of the pears, pumpkin purée and parsnips, and the saltiness of the pork belly. Any leftovers will be delicious on a plate of cold cuts and cheese - perfect for Christmas leftovers.

4 ripe pears
A finger of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
A few allspice berries
2 whole cloves
A small handful of black peppercorns
125ml red wine vinegar
2oz/50g caster sugar

Peel the pears, slice them in quarters lengthways and remove their cores. Place the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring the liquid up to the boil for a couple of minutes and add the pears. Leave the pears to simmer for about 10 minutes or until tender. Leave the pears to cool in the pickling juice or, you can, at this point, transfer the pears and the liquid into sterilised jars. Once ready to dish up, strain the pears and cut them into small cubes and arrange on the plate with the pork belly, parsnips and pumpkin purée.

Port reduction

1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
The pork ribs from the pork belly
1 bay leaf
A sprig of thyme
1 pint of fresh chicken stock
500ml of ruby port (yes, I know it's a lot, but you can always turn this into a red wine reduction if economy dictates it - just add a pinch of sugar if you do)
A knob of butter
Salt and pepper

Brown the vegetables and ribs in a saucepan with a little oil, pour over the chicken stock and leave to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, skimming off any excess fat every now and then. Strain the sauce of vegetables and bones into a clean saucepan and add the port. Leave to simmer until the sauce has reduced by half - it should be thick and slightly sticky, but don't over-reduce it to nothing. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary, then stir in the knob of butter to enrich your sauce and give it a lovely sheen just before serving. Don't forget to warm your plates!

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