I am a little obsessed with good crackling and crisp skin generally. One of the best things that I have ever eaten might surprise you. It was in Barbados, I had asked the staff at my hotel what their favourite thing to eat was and they had replied, oh you wouldn’t like it. I knew that I probably would and so I pressed on. They laughed and refused to divulge. They had done with guests before who returned horrified and full of moans. To my surprise and delight eventually they gave in and replied, barbecue pig tails. Say what?! I have never had a pig tail, save slippery in a soup in Antigua (the flavour was great, the texture a bit more challenging for me). I had never had pig tail off the barbecue.
This recipe is the first in a series of 4 that I developed in partnership with the Big Green Egg who sponsored this post. (Read more about sponsored content on Eat Like a Girl).
This is the first in a series of recipe posts that I developed for the Big Green Egg. The iconic ceramic BBQ is a terrific piece of kit that I have really enjoyed working with at home. It The Big Green Egg has a domed lid which makes it an all weather BBQ but also allows very precise temperature control (combined with air valves at the top and at the bottom). The enamel coating ensures that it doesn’t rust and it is ready to use within 15 minutes of sparking up. I thought that I would go through a lot of charcoal but it is surprisingly efficient for such a big beast.
There is such satisfaction in cooking over fire. The smells and flavours of smoke permeate the food and the results vary hugely depending whether you cook over a flame or smouldering coals. I like to use flame for steaks and then stick something on low and slow to cook gently. Something like wings, ribs or these pig cheeks.
A hugely underrated and terrific value cut of meat, pig cheeks are a dream to cook on the BBQ. They have a deep porky flavour and firm texture, and they are often cooked so that they yield and fall apart, functioning as a glamorous pulled pork. I don’t know why people don’t stop them before this, I love them cooked until before this point, still firm but rich and moist, and glorious coated in a dark glaze as I have here.
Pig cheeks BBQ very well when marinaded overnight in a soy based teriyaki marinade which functions not just in terms of flavour, but also as a brine. After an hour of gentle cooking the cheeks are tender and moist, and full of flavour. A gorgeous bite. Glazed with a reduction of the marinade cooked on the hob once the cheeks hit the fire. Like this with a slaw, or in a Japanese style taco with sweet Japanese mayonnaise, some sriracha, some sesame seeds and fresh coriander.
Enjoy! And do share what you think of them, and any ideas that you have for BBQ season.
Preperation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour
- 500g pig cheeks, trimmed (they are sold like this normally, if not ask your butcher to do it)
- 120ml soy sauce
- 120ml sake or dry sherry
- 60ml rice vinegar (or another light vinegar)
- 4 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp gojuchang (Korean chilli paste) or some coarsely chopped fresh chilli - optional, I like a little heat
Combine everything except the pig cheeks in a zip loc bag or the container in which you will marinade the pig cheeks.
Add the pig cheeks and mix well. Leave to marinade in the fridge overnight, or for as long as possible, at least 2 hours.
Fire up your BBQ / Big Green Egg. Once the charcoal starts to smoulder, bring the temperature to a stable 150 deg C (the BGE has a temperature gauge which makes this easy).
Remove the cheeks from the marinade and put on the grill. Turn occasionally. After an hour they will be done.
While the cheeks are cooking, reduce the leftover marinade by half on the hob to use as a sauce / glaze.
Eat as they are - so good! - with the reduced marinade. These work really well as a Japanese taco as specified in the post above.
Prep time is only 10 minutes, but try and budget for an overnight marinade also. You will get much better results.
First things first, American readers, wild garlic is the same as ramps :)
I always wondered why I didn’t know about wild garlic when I was growing up in the Irish countryside, and why the surrounding hedgerows and fields weren’t full of it. There was 3 cornered leek, slender and more grassy with a longer season, but still with gorgeous oniony flowers. But no wild garlic at all. The answer became clear as I investigated, rural areas which have lots of dairy cattle don’t have much of it because cows eat the wild garlic and it makes the milk very pungent. So the farmers dig it up. Once it takes root, if conditions are right, wild garlic will take over and spread. You will find it in the shade and with moist soil, you will often find them near patches of bluebells. Once I discovered this, I realised that we had had wild garlic all the time.
In an old abandoned stately home at the end of my road (not uncommon in Ireland), there was a beautiful wood which would be carpeted by bluebells and what we called white bluebells in Spring, and which I now realise was wild garlic. I loved that place and dreamed that one day I might own it. A big old house facing the Atlantic, it had a large wood on either side where we would go for conkers and fruit in Autumn and flowers in Spring. It had a walled garden with apple trees, cherry trees and gooseberry bushes. It was a secret garden that we would play in, the green door still intact and the white wall still high. There were abandoned old stables and a big house, still fully furnished. We found diaries, skis and a wedding dress when we investigated one day. There was a gorgeous small lodge at the entrance outside, which by now was a field full of cows. It was demolished to make way for a golf club, and I was devastated to discover it. Most of the local community were.
We spent much of our childhood wandering around here. The house slowly degraded and became dangerous so we weren’t allowed go there but we still always would. The cows moved in from the field outside to the woods and the ground, and one day we were chased by some bulls (although I fear actually timid bullocks) and we spent hours up a tree waiting for them to go, having to dash across at one point and climb a thick briar, to be rescued from on top of the high external wall by my friends visiting cousin when he wandered past and heard us wailing. We brought a ladder another day to access the house from the first floor now that the downstairs was barred (remember: dangerous!) only to discover a hole in the window and a dead crow splayed on the ground. I took that as a sign and turned heel, with everyone else yelling chicken after me. Chicken maybe, but I just saw a dead crow!
This wasn’t the only old abandoned house that we played in but it was by far the largest and the most magical. When people left Ireland in poverty, they left their houses behind to crumble with the weather and time. Woodhouse became one of their number and there are no photos that I can find of this gorgeous place. Likely it was much smaller than my child’s eye remembers. Fond memories remain only.
Harvesting wild garlic as I was all those years ago, although with no idea, just to put in vases all around the house. I loved their pretty flowers. Now, I treasure the flowers and the leaves and do all I can to get my mitts on them in season. The flowers have a gorgeous sharp flavour, the leaves too but more sour. I buy it at the farmer’s market, my friend Danny has a garden full and recently donated a plant to my cause, and last weekend I was in Cardiff and went foraging with my friend Abi. We found a riverside carpeted with it, it was more of a stream really. Tender small young leaves and mainly unopened flower buds, which I will pickle like capers.
With Danny’s plant, I made a wild garlic porchetta. I had porchetta in my head since my last trip to Rome and I had to make it, if only to exorcise it from my brain. I adore porchetta when it is well made. At home it is tricky, you really need to seal the porchetta as well as you can so that you can retain the fat within, the fat is key to moisture and flavour and there is much of it in the meat. The best way to do this is to stitch the porchetta closed all round. You can seal the ends with tin foil too. I didn’t have a butchers needle (although I have ordered one now) but I did have butchers twine, and so I wrestled my slippery porchetta just before midnight on a night last week and closed it as tightly as I could manage.
For porchetta, you want the loin and belly still as one joint (with the ribs removed). Ask your butcher to do this for you, one of my favourite butchers in London Turner and George prepared it expertly for me (they have an online shop and deliver too). I then blitzed some wild garlic leaves with some oil (rendered pork lard would have been better but I didn’t have any), and rubbed it on to the flesh inside. I rolled it tight and tied it as best as I could – not terribly well if I am honest, I need to work on it – but the results were still gorgeous. I started it bright and furiously, then covered it with foil to roast overnight at a lower temperature. In the morning, my flat smelled gloriously porky with a perky sharp edge of wild garlic, I removed the foil and blasted it again until the skin was perfectly crisp. Roasting it slowly overnight will always give perfect crackling once you dry the skin before you put it in.
This was such a gorgeous dish. I recommend getting some friends around and serving it as you would a roast, or for a picnic in pizza bianca or gorgeous crusty bread. If you want to serve it for dinner, put it in first thing in the morning, it doesn’t need to be overnight.
I have so many ideas for my wild garlic but I would love to hear yours too. Or do you have any favourite recipes that you could link me to? Thanks!
Other wild garlic ideas from Eat Like a Girl:
Gorgeous wild garlic recipes from elsewhere:
Wild Garlic Pesto, Soup, Bread etc etc etc from Food Urchin
Wet & Wild Garlic Lasagne with Creamy St. George’s Mushrooms & Fresh Egg Pasta from Ramson’s & Bramble in Leeds, UK
serves 8 - the leftovers are brilliant also
- 1 x 4 to 5 kg porchetta joint (ask your butcher to prepare one with the belly and loin with ribs removed, and skin still on) - you won't regret making more, it is sandwich heaven
- 50g wild garlic leaves
- 2 tbsp oil like extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil (or pork dripping if you have it)
- sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- butcher's string
- aluminium foil to cover
- a deep roasting tray that will fit the roast comfortably
This is best prepared in advance, although I have prepared it right before too, so don't stress too much if you don't have time.
Score the pork skin with a very sharp knife or craft / stanley knife, or have your butcher score it for you. Try to just cut the skin down to just before the fat but not below. If you go into the flesh, the flesh will lose moisture and you run the risk of drying the meat and the escaping moisture will kill the crackling on the way out.
Put the wild garlic and the oil in a food processor or blender, or chop the wild garlic finely and mix with the oil. Rub into the flesh (not the skin side), season with some sea salt and black pepper, and then roll the joint so it is skin side out and as tight as possible. This might be a bit of a slippery wrestle but it is worth it. Tie it tightly with string as best you can (there is lots of info online about butchers knots, mine were clumsy but worked). You really want it to be as tight as possible to maintain flavour and moisture as much as possible. You can cover the ends with foil which will help, and the gold standard is to stitch it all closed tightly with a butchers needle and string.
Dry the skin with kitchen towel, and if you have time, place it uncovered in the fridge for as long as you can, up to 8 hours, to dry out the skin completely.
Or just roast it, which is ok, just make sure the skin is very dry. You can even use a hair dryer here if you like (it works!). Season the skin with sea salt just before it goes in (and not earlier as it will draw moisture out).
Preheat your oven to as high as it goes and when hot place the porchetta in the tray and put it in. Blast it for about half an hour or until the skin starts to blister. Remove from the oven and turn the oven down to 130 deg C. Cover the porchetta with foil and put it back in the oven to roast it for 8 hours - or overnight.
Remove the foil and remove any excess fat that has rendered. This will be brilliant for roast potatoes another time. Turn the heat right back up for about 20 minutes, keeping an eye on it, until the crackling is perfectly crisp.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for half an hour before serving. You can heat slices gently for warm sandwiches later too.
It is SO good, Enjoy!
I am summer roll crazy right now. When at home I have made them at least twice a week, and always with different fillings. Sometimes prawns, sometimes tofu, and yesterday, with chilli and lime salmon and samphire, and then the ultimate pork belly & crackling. Crunch, swoosh, zing.
A summer roll is really just a beautifully packaged noodle salad. And a very portable one. Hello, lunch? Rice noodles (vermicelli) and friends, all neatly packaged in a water softened rice paper wrap. They seem complicated but they are not all that difficult to roll, with practice. After 3 or 4, you will have the knack, and they will take over your summer. I keep the noodle content low, as I find they get a bit rubbery if there is too much. I like to keep them packed with colour and freshness, grated carrot, fresh coriander and mint, and the zing of a fresh fruity not-so-hot chilli.
The wraps are fairly easy to source, I buy them in Chinatown usually but my local health food shop and supermarket stock them also. You can buy different sizes, I go for the bigger one, they are just easier. You can put whatever you want in your summer roll, I love these flavour combinations, and any leftover filling, should you have any, is perfectly good as a salad on its own.
Recipe: Vietnamese Summer Rolls Two Ways; Chilli Salmon & Samphire Rolls and Pork Belly & Crackling Rolls
Makes 12 – 16 depending on how big you make them
Vietnamese rice paper wraps – 12-16 to start but I suggest stacking up
50g vermicelli rice noodles, prepared according to packet instructions (mine needed to be soaked in boiling water for 12 minutes)
a handful of chopped fresh mint leaves
a handful of chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 mild fruity red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
1 carrot, grated
4 spring onions, finely chopped
good dried chilli
fresh cracked black pepper
a handful of fresh samphire
Pork belly filling
750g pork belly with skin on (allowing some for the cook to nibble on while they work ;) )
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp black peppercorns
Pork belly – score the top using a sharp knife (or stanley knife – really, that skin is tough!) cutting through the skin until before the flesh. Don’t cut through to the flesh as it will lose moisture while cooking which affects the crackling making it rubbery, and also makes the flesh dry. Put the pork on a wire tray (like a grill pan) skin side up and pour boiling water over it to puff the skin up. Drain and dry the skin with kitchen paper. Leave at room temperature for half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 220 deg C. In a pestle and mortar / spice grinder combine 1 tsp sea salt / 1 tsp black peppercorns / 2 tsp final and grind until a rough powder. Dry the pork belly skin again, completely, if you own a hair dryer this works well (again, really), I use kitchen paper, and rub the fennel mixture all over the pork – skin and flesh. Place in the oven at 220 deg C for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 170 deg C and cook for a further 45 minutes. Check the skin, if not puffed up, blast at high heat for 5 minutes or place under the grill and keep a very close eye on it – it will burn quickly. Remove and leave to cool down a bit.
I cooked the salmon in the same oven for the last 20 minutes. Squeeze the lime over the salmon and top with a little sea salt, some chilli and pepper. Place on some greaseproof paper, enough to make a parcel (about 3 times the length and width) and fold the greaseproof paper tight on top to secure it. You can tie it with string but mine was fine like this. Cook for 20 minutes at 170 deg C. For the last two minutes add the samphire to the parcel, just to soften it. The samphire is also lovely raw so you can just put it in raw too). Remove from the oven and allow to cool down.
Combine the rest of the ingredients for the rolls – noodles, herbs et al.
Put about an inch of water in a bowl or deep plate large enough to fit the wraps (one at a time). Soak each one for 30 seconds or so, until just soft and pliable but not too soft (they will tear). You will get a feel for it.
Place a small amount of pork belly and crackling or salmon and samphire in the bottom centre third leaving an inch at the end (see photo). Place some of the noodle mixture on top. Fold each side over, then roll from the bottom (see photos).
Leave on a plate while you roll the others. Leave space between them or they will stick.
Eat immediately or store covered in cling film in the fridge.
Jet lag hit hard and so did a salmonella relapse, something that I didn’t even know could happen. Roll on Sunday morning where I finally felt nearly human, and decided to embrace the world by heading to gorgeous Columbia Road Flower Market in East London with a friend.
If you have not been, Columbia Road Flower Market is a joyful place and a London landmark in the East End. It is a small street, lined now with cafés and restaurants, and packed with flower sellers known for their enthusiasm and high spirits as they attempt to engage the heaving mass of passers by. It gets very busy. Thronged.