Poppin my pork belly cherry

May 18th, 2011 § 0 comments

These days, pork belly is on every fine dining menu. Almost without fail. Mostly infused with Asian flavour and preferably with crisp crackling. I’ve been less than impressed with some of the offerings, either due to blubbery skin or dried-out meat. Which left the impression that pork belly was somehow difficult to prepare. Fear set in. Could little old me do this, at home? So when I bought half a pork belly from Joostenberg Deli, the occasion demanded that rarest of rare kitchen vixen occurrences: a recipe!

By process of elimination (time & ingredient availability) I decided on Marcus Wareing’s Blackened chili belly of pork on page 106 of Nutmeg & Custard.

Left: the end. Right: the means

It is a basic recipe that I was determined to follow to the letter. If anyone, Marcus could take the blame. The only exceptional instruction was to rub the skin with salt and let stand for two hours. Why? He didn’t say but salt always draws moisture so that might have something to do with it (I’m just following orders here, right). Finely chop and mix together the following: salt, red chillies, soy sauce, a really big knob of ginger, demerara sugar, cloves garlic and maple syrup. My Eerste Kookboek couldn’t be simpler. Rinse the pork, pat dry and coat with the soy mixture.

Not to be mistaken for a festive ham

I must admit, I had two people coming for dinner (one of them my rather hard to please cousin) and things just weren’t going my way. I slashed the tip off my ring finger whilst chopping. I know! The bloody ring finger – what’s the knife doing over there in the first place? Waaay off course… Plus I have a rather basic gas stove sans grill. Under 180 degrees you have to guess the temperature by the size of a little blue flame down below… so I free-styled the belly at a random low temperature for two and a half hours.

I needed an easy side so decided on sweet potato mash with spring onions. A brief boil, then mashed with a dash of coconut milk, a hand full of spring onions and a pinch of salt. And butter, of course. It is mash after all. What a lovely, clean-tasting dish. Perfect with an Asian-style meat main. I had fancy ideas of carrot and courgette ribbons steamed and flashed in sesame oil, lime and coriander but after the detipping of the ring finger I didn’t have the nerve to use a mandolin so settled on courgettes, steamed and flashed with a few rosa tomatoes, lime, sesame oil and coriander.

In mash I trust

With the meat roasting away at a mystery temperature I started fretting, until cousin J reminded me that I had a meat thermometer (thanks Weber) and a quick google search revealed that pork is done at 71 degrees. The thick ginger and chili coating meant this belly was never going to crackle. I had to make do with the little grill in my microwave to blacken the pork and lo-and-behold, when I took it out cousin J said the magic words: ‘It looks exactly like the picture’. Waves of relief I tell you… and at 76 degrees it was perfectly done.

I deviated from the recipe only once – by adding half a bottle of cider – to keep the soy sauce from burning. Permissible, I’d say. Cousin J and Hermien loved it, with cousin even pronouncing the belly to be ‘a bloody marvelous piece of meat’. Although the skin wasn’t crisp, the blackened ginger and chili crust saved it from having that blubbery look, plus the flavour was amazing. It takes about three hours from start to plate (excluding time spent resting with salt) and provided you get going in time, there really isn’t much to it. Let the improvisation begin. Next, I’ll go the bay leaf and fennel seed route…


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