Sweet Cured, Slow Roast Pork: Tips for Geeks

See the original recipe here

Pork belly curing

The effects of the curing process that I use in this recipe is not easy to understand. In fact it is highly counter-intuitive. The meat ends up MORE moist and tender, even thought the cure draws out water and firms up the meat.

The reason for this is that as the chloride ions from the salt penetrate the meat, it causes a change to the proteins in the meat that bind the water to the flesh more tightly, and resists the shrinking of muscle fibres that would force water out when cooking. For more information on this, see Modernist Cuisine, vol 3, p154
In theory, brining meat in a solution of salt and sugar should be even more moist than the dry-rub curing I use in this recipe, as the dry rub draws water out by osmosis, whereas the brine would not. However, I cannot support this theory – testing out two pieces of pork cut from the same belly, one dry cured similarly to above and one brined, I found the dry cure tastier and more succulent.
The role of sugar in the cure to balance the taste of the salt. Much as with the brining issue, I can find no support in books I read for a cure with as high a ratio of sugar to salt as I use here (2 parts sugar to 1 part salt). Modernist Cuisine, for instance, has their SWEET dry rub at a 1:2 ratio – twice as much salt as sugar, 4 times as salty as my cure. That’s the ratio I use for my SALTY cure (when I make bacon, for instance). As I say, I cannot account for the dramatic divergence between my use of sugar and what is used by apparently everyone else – I can only assure you that it’s not a typo: twice as much sugar as salt is my recipe, and I have tested a range of cures to find the best one for this purpose.

Pork belly (raw)

Although I call it “slow roast”, the proper term for this dish would be “pot-roast” or “braised”. Although it’s simple to put meat, liquid and possibly some vegetables in a pot, put a lid on it, and leave it alone for a few hours, from a scientific point of view, a pot-roast is remarkably complex. It uses convention, conduction, radiation, as well as both wet and dry heat.

The liquid keeps the meat and the air around the meat moist.  It also (and more importantly) it keeps the food from scorching by quenching any hot spots that occur on the base of the pot. This does not require a lot of liquid, and it’s better not to use more than required – if you use too much, the meat will boil rather than braise, and will lose it’s flavour into the liquid. Some flavour does of course go into the liquid, making it into a sauce that you can serve with the meat or reserve for use in another dish.

Covering the pot with a tight-fitting lid has a number of effects. Radiant heat from the lid causes the meat to brown (Malliard reactions), which creates great flavour. The lid also stops those flavours from escaping into the air. And by trapping the moisture in the pot, the meat cooks more quickly (because moist air conducts head better than dry air – “it’s not the heat it’s the humidity”) and dries out less because evaporation is reduced by the air already being full of moisture. For these reasons, if you don’t have a lid and have to resort to a foil cover, try to get the tightest fit you can with it.

Roasting juices

Skimming a sauce is to remove the oil/fat from the water-based portion of the sauce. Because oil and water don’t mix and the latter is more dense, the oil will “float” on top of the water, if you leave the sauce to settle for a minute. You can “skim” this off with a spoon by dipping it carefully into the oily layer and scooping it out one spoonful at a time (if you do so, you may find it easier to use a less wide container for the liquid as this will increase the depth of the oil layer).
However, a much easier and more effective way is to put the sauce in a pint glass or a pyrex measuring jug and put it in the fridge (glass will allow you to see the two layers clearly). As it cools to fridge temperature, the fat in the sauce will set solid at the top and can be scooped out. If there is enough gelatin in the water-based layer, it may also set solid.

I recommend not using the skin of the pork for this recipe. It’s not really possible to get a satisfying crackling to come up, so the skin will either be rubbery and flacid or hard and leathery. You can ask your butcher to remove it, or you can take it off yourself with a sharp knife while raw, which is not very hard but does requires some patience. This allows you to use the skin for another recipe (like pork rinds, or to enrich a stock/stew). Alternatively, if you’re short on time and did not have the butcher remove it, you can cook the pork up to right before the glazing stage, and remove the skin easily from the tender meat at this point.

Sweet cured pork belly cut

Pork belly often comes with the belly ribs in. If you wish, you can bone out the ribs/have your butcher do it for you. Then you have a rack of ribs which you can cook any way you like. Personally though, I tend to leave the ribs in when I cook the pork, and cut them off at the end of the cooking time (the meat is very tender so this is easy). The ribs are a chefs treat – ugly, but delicious. There is a certain amount of cartilage to watch out for though, which you CAN eat, but it has an al dente kind of mouthfeel that I personally find quite unpleasant.

As with most pork recipes, if you like fennel or aniseed-y flavours, add some fennel seeds or star anise to the rub or to the glaze. Please don’t make me eat it though – I can’t stand the taste of aniseed.

Pickles: Tips for Geeks

Ploughman's lunch with butter
Pickling has infinite scope for variation based on personal preference. If you prefer your pickles sweeter, add more sugar. Milder, add more water. Increase, reduce or eliminate entirely the salt content of the brine if you wish.

Spices and herbs can be tailored to whatever it is that you’re pickling. If you like aniseed-y flavours (I can’t stand them), they infuse really well into the pickling liquor. You can use fennel seeds or star anise to pickle fennel or onions which will then go great with pork.

 

Pickle jar open
Radishes will stain pickling liquor a striking shade of hot pink, and any cucumbers in
that liquor will take on a more delicate shade. If you’re not keen on this for
presentation, keep radishes and cucumbers separate. If you’re only about the eating of
them, don’t worry about it. If you actively seek a vivid pinky/purple colour, add a few
slices of beetroot.

You can use regular cucumbers for pickling but there are varieties of pickling cucumbers
available (I usually find them at Indian grocery stores) and they are exceptionally good.

Thicker cuts of vegetables take longer to pickle and have firmer mouthfeel. Play around to
get the size/shape you like best.

 

 

 

 

IMG_9680
You can get a couple of uses out of a batch of pickle liqueur. You may need to top it up
with more vinegar, sugar or salt – the water inside the previous batch of veg will have
diluted it. Boil it and allow to cool to repasteurise it. As in all things, use your best
judgement – throw it away if it doesn’t smell or taste nice.

A short list of things I’ve heard of or tried pickling: courgettes, pears, chillies,
apples, watermelon rind, kholrabi, cabbage, celeriac, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots. It’s
well worth trying things out, even unusual ideas

If you want to store pickles at room temperature, official advice is that they need to be
sterilised and then kept sealed to prevent recontamination. It’s possible that the acidity
alone will prevent bacterial growth, and I’ve heard ph 4.2 or below cited as a target.
However, I don’t have the ability to measure ph, and I prefer my pickles chilled anyway,
so I keep them in the fridge.

You may find yourself with quite a bit of leftover brine once you’ve eaten all the
pickles. Here’s a great way to use it up:

 

Pickleback

Recipe: Pickleback

  • 25ml Bourbon
  • 20ml Pickle juice

Pour the bourbon into one shot glass and the pickle juice into another. Drink the bourbon, then drink the pickle juice. The pickle juice will cleanse the palate and leave you ready for another bourbon. Repeat as necessary.

“Hedgerow” ice cream with apple crumble

Blackberry, rosemary, elderflower cordial and white chocolate chunks

Hedgerow Jaunty

The only thing better than food is free food. That’s why there’s no time of year quite like blackberry season. All along the banks of the river and at the borders of every park, hedgerows burst into fruit, and any walk is liable to leave me with crimson-stained fingers until I get home.

Blackberries

This dish was inspired by the bounty that this season offers up for free: blackberries from Shotover park and Mesopotamia walk; elderflower cordial made from Warnford Meadow; apples from our garden and rosemary purloined from someone else’s

It’s also a little bit of a twist on the gastropub stalwart of blackberry and apple crumble with vanilla ice cream. I’ve never liked putting blackberries in apple crumble. The blackberry flavour diminishes in the cooking and you’re left picking seeds out from between your teeth.

This ice cream, with the rich, fresh blackberry flavour, is great on its own, but it goes perfectly with apple crumble. I’ve included a recipe for that as well, but there’s nothing new about it – I’ve cooked it the same way since I had to stand on a chair to reach the table.

Apples on the tree 2Hedgerow Ice Cream with Apple Crumble

Blackberry purée
Makes 200g-300g
400g (or more) of blackberries, washed and drained

Continue reading ““Hedgerow” ice cream with apple crumble”