TAKE IT SLOW
Throwback Thursday: A Crackling Good Quest, the take your time edition
Not everything is about perfect timing. If a slab of pork belly is cooked in a bath of chopped vegetables and plenty of liquid, as long as its head is above water, so to speak, you can leave it to cook until the rind has turned to perfect, crunchy crackling.
Our quest for the perfect pork crackling continues apace. You can read the earlier chapters of this venture here, here, here and here. This edition is based on the premise, or truth, that the timing in a recipe does not always have to be rigid. That may (and certainly does) apply to a cake, loaf of bread, and many other dishes but, as I often say, ovens differ, and therefore their temperature “behaviour” differs and, consequently, what takes two hours in one oven may need an additional half hour in another.
But this also depends entirely on the manner of cooking it. If a slab of pork goes into the oven dry, moistened only with, say, some oil, you can’t just keep cooking and cooking as it will undoubtedly dry out and turn tough. But this recipe is for a lovely big piece of pork belly cooked in a “bath”, so to speak, of vegetables and liquid.
Not water, mind you. There were several kinds of liquid in it: vegetable stock, red grape juice and red jerepigo (the South African fortified wine or “soeters”); plus a little soy sauce and a splash of fish sauce. Then there were vegetables including shallots and carrot, and they, when cooked, emit their own juices to add to both the quantity of liquid in the dish and its flavour.
Also, with the measurements I’ve given below, don’t feel exactly bound by them. All oven dishes are different too, some deeper, others wider. The point is to choose a dish that will hold whatever size of pork belly you have quite snugly, so the choice of dish depends on how big the meat is.
So, once you’ve mixed all the liquids together in a jug, pour it all around (not on the rind) the pork belly until it reaches its shoulders, so to speak. In other words, give it a little breathing space on top, so that the skin can slowly cook for much of the cooking before you turn the heat for that final blast designed to crisp the skin until it’s that perfectly crunchy crackling you’re looking for.
With this method, the liquids and the time it takes to cook will ensure that the meat will first become fall-apart tender, then keep them that way while the rind turns to crackling.
So, keep an eye on it while it’s in the oven and if, when the time comes to turn the heat right up, you feel there’s not enough liquid in the dish to maintain the delicious tenderness of the meat it contains, heat up a little more stock and pour it around, being very careful not to splash any on the rind.
1 slab of pork belly, whatever size you need
1 tsp each of ground fennel, aniseed, fenugreek, coriander and celery salt, mixed with ½ tsp white pepper
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large carrot, diced
4 shallots, quartered
3 or 4 orange sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
250 ml vegetable stock
250 ml red grape juice
100 ml red jerepigo
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 heaped tsp cornflour dissolved in 2 Tbsp water
Score the rind but don’t cut into the meat at all.
Mix the rub ingredients together. Rub this into the meat and the scored rind. Cure the belly in this spice rub for 2 hours or more.
Preheat the oven to 220℃.
Oil a deep oven dish. Place at the bottom the carrot, sweet potatoes and shallots.
Place the belly on top of the vegetables, with the entire rind/skin with its “head” above the liquid, so to speak. Season the top with salt and white pepper.
Mix the stock, juice and jerepigo together with the soy and fish sauce, and pour it around the belly, but not over the skin. Retain any leftover cooking stock for adding later, if needed. Cover the top with double foil.
Roast at 220℃ for half an hour, then turn the temperature down to 160℃ and cook it slowly for 2 to 3 hours.
Take the dish out of the oven and turn the heat up as high as it will go (I went to 270℃). Pat the skin dry with paper towel, season with coarse salt and brush with olive oil.
Return it to the oven – uncovered – and blast it for 30 minutes to crisp the skin. Check to see whether the crackling is perfect. If not, return to the oven, checking every 5 to 10 minutes for that perfect crackling. Add more heated stock around the meat if necessary.
Once it’s done, pour off the liquid into a saucepan. Reduce the sauce by half on a high heat, then thicken with cornflour dissolved in water.
As well as the vegetables cooked with the belly, I served it with creamed leeks. DM/TGIFood
Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Champion 2021. His book, foodSTUFF, is available in the DM Shop. Buy it here.
Mervyn Gers Ceramics supplies dinnerware for the styling of some TGIFood shoots. For more information, click here.
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