Saturday, 14 June 2014

Slow-Cooked Pork Belly with Apple Purée

Pork belly is one of those cuts of meat that are relatively inexpensive to buy and provided you show a little bit of care and attention, you will be rewarded with meat that when cooked is meltingly tender and delicious to eat.

Pork belly is a very fatty cut of meat, but before you dismiss it, it is important to know that it is this fat which renders down during long, slow cooking at a low temperature which makes the meat so tender to eat. In addition, this is the type of dish which  you don’t have to be as exact about in terms of the cooking times as you would with more expensive cuts like pork fillet, where over-cooking results in dry, tough meat. As such, it is an ideal recipe for the less confident cook and I promise you everyone will be looking for second helpings, when you present it because it is just so darn tasty!

The glaze is easy to prepare and can be made in advance. I use a mixture of apple juice and cider because I feel that it lends the dish a very pleasing apple ‘edge’ which is then emphasized by serving the pork with an apple purée. The addition of vinegar in the glaze cuts through some of the richness and adds balance to the finished dish. I used white wine vinegar, but cider vinegar would also work well for obvious reasons.

This is an absolutely fabulous recipe and incredibly tasty; the aromas in my kitchen as I was cooking this recipe were just heavenly. As the pork is finishing cooking in the oven, the glaze thickens and darkens in colour and swathes the meat in the most beautiful sticky syrup and adds a slightly caramel bitterness which also cuts through the richness.

Finally, I should say a word or two about the apple purée… because it is really delicious! It is simple to make but so velvety smooth which creates a lovely texture contrast to the meat. Be careful not to over-sweeten the purée – you want it to be slightly tart. Taste it after puréeing it and if you think it is slightly too sweet, add a few drop of lemon juice to balance it out. As usual, taste as you go along and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Ingredients:

1kg pork belly with skin on
A little vegetable oil
Glaze:
500ml Apple juice
500ml cider
100ml white wine vinegar
125g caster sugar
125g Demerara sugar
1 cinnamon stick
3-4 cloves
2 bay leaves
A few springs of fresh thyme
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 red chilli pepper bruised
Apple Purée:
4 large cooking apples, peeled cored and cut into chunks
50g butter
1tblsp soft brown sugar
30ml water
A pinch of salt
 

Method:

Glaze:
1. Put all the ingredients for the glaze into a medium sized saucepan over a moderate heat. Allow to bubble away gently for about and hour until it has reduced and turned syrupy. Strain through a fine sieve into a clean bowl. Discard the contents of the sieve.
Pork Belly:
2. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Separately heat a little oil in a large frying pan and when hot, add the pork belly and sear on all sides until golden brown all over. Transfer to an oven proof dish and place in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and using a pastry brush some of the glaze all over the pork belly.
3. Reduce the oven temperature to 160C/Fan Oven 140C/Gas Mark 3 and return the pork belly to the oven for a further 90 minutes, glazing it every 15-20 minutes.
4. Remove the pork belly from the oven and cut into portions. Gently heat the remaining glaze and spoon some over the top of each portion just before serving.
Apple Purée:
(The apple purée can be made at the same time that the pork is initially roasting and then set aside in a warm place once made).
5. Place all the ingredients for the apple puree in a small roasting pan and cook in the pre-heated oven until the apples have just softened (about 30 minutes).
6. Place in a blender and purée until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Pass through a fine sieve and set aside until ready to serve.
To serve:
7. Put a spoonful of apple purée on each plate alongside 3 or 4 pieces of pork belly cut into large bite-sized chunks. Serve with steamed broccoli.

Serves 4-6.