And now it’s November. It’s dark and cold, it’s been quite wet. That’s ok though, life is all about balance, the rough with the smooth, the highs with the lows, the summer with the winter, and I embrace it. Well, most of the time and maybe not the rain, I had enough of that growing up in Ireland!
I’ve had a busy few months leading up to this, new flat, new job, new everything it seemed, and now that everything is starting to settle, well almost, I took some time this month to experiment, a little, and indulge alot. It’s been a month for comfort food.
Comfort food is at once a friend and an enemy, that first spoonful is so lovely, but by the end, I can start to hate it as I’ve usually eaten way too much. One of the exceptions to this rule is slow roast pork belly, which never grows tired. In fact, I only wished I’d roasted double so that I could have eaten it for the week and not just two days. Of course, that would have been horribly greedy and gluttonous (catholic guilt: seven deadly sins!), there’s also the small issue of health to think of, so I am destined forever to cook small portions, in an attempt at control.
I have been obsessed with pork belly for some time, the obsession ramped up a notch at Taste of London when I sampled the pork belly from Le Cafe Anglais. Within a short time I was at the restaurant and sampling it there. Hola, full blown obsession! The moist and tender meat blanketed with that oh so crispy crackling, I started researching to see how I could recreate that perfect meal.
So, these are the secrets I uncovered. Most important is slow roasting, start it at a high temperature and reduce it to low, and wait. Roast it with cider or wine for moisture or flavour. Add vegetables to flavour the juices. A variety of herbs and spices are used from fennel to aniseed. So, I thought, what kind of flavours do I want with my pork? I settled on fennel, thyme and cider, and it worked quite well.
I roasted 500g pork, enough for one greedy person over two days or two normal people for dinner. I had my leftovers for lunch the next day, mmmm. Double up if you want to make enough for two, and on and on. It’s a very cheap dish incidentally, pork belly is very inexpensive, especially when you consider the luxury of the final product.
500g pork belly – get your butcher to score the top of it
1tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp maldon sea salt
1 stick celery
a few springs of thyme
a few cloves garlic
half red onion, sliced
200g brown lentils (I used Italian mountain lentils but green or puy would be good too)
1 bottle of dry cider
Preheat the oven to to 250 degrees.
Grind the fennel seeds and salt in a pestle and mortar and rub all over the pork belly. You might need to pat the pork belly dry with some kitchen paper first.
Chop the vegetables coarsely, leave the thyme and garlic whole. Place all in a lightly oiled roasting dish and place the pork belly on top. Make sure the meat covers the veg or they will burn.
Roast for 20 minutes then reduce to 150 degrees and roast for a further 2 hours.
Remove the pork from the oven, it will be crisping nicely by now and add the lentils. Add enough cider to cover the lentils generously and put back in the oven for a further hour or until the lentils are cooked. You’ll need to stir the lentil occasionally and add more liquid if you need to.
Remove from the oven and rest the meat for 5 minutes.
Slice and serve the lentils without the veg with the pork belly on top.
(note: I left the veg in for lunch but that was because I was rushed! The veg really loses it’s flavour over the lengthy cooking process, you just need it to flavour the lentils and the juices)