Monday, 5 March 2012

From the belly of the beast

The aromas coming from the pot were intoxicating, filling the kitchen with a simple, spicy fragrance that sat well with the ice cold lager I had in one hand and a Villiger pressed Grosseformat (easily my favourite of the mass produced cigars behind the supermarket tobacco counter) in the other. My stylish Dean & Deluca cooks apron was already bespattered with the chilli laden cooking liquor which was testament to my lack of control when it came to keeping contents in the pan! This was how a Saturday afternoon should be, drinking cool beer and smoking cheap cigars whilst a pot of magic simmers away on the stove...

There is nothing quite like a little bit of belly of pork! And modern foodistas seems to think so to, so much so that it seems to crop up on every respectable restaurant and trendy gastropub. In fact, you cannot move anywhere without seeing belly of pork in some shape or form. Sometimes it can be delicious and other times it can be downright filthy! There are few things as bad as a nasty, grey, stringy and flabby belly which has been cooked too quickly and left for too long under the pass. Other times it is not so much the cooking of the beast but the sheer quantity that so many restaurants think is correct to serve to customers (i will be covering this practice later in the week). Thankfully there are plenty of delicious ways to serve this cut and this fabulous recipe from one of Australia's foremost chefs is a real cracker and an alternative way to eat this now popular cut!

Neil Perry has been a big name on the Antipodean food scene for a while and considering that the Aussie influence has been steadily trickling over to us pommie b*******ds, it is surprising that he hasn't had more exposure over here. The recipe he gives for chilli braised belly of pork is rich and fiery, you will not need too much of it as it is very filling and a little goes a long way. When I next do it I will certainly invite some mates around to give me a hand! I have made a few cosmetic changes but the recipe remains pretty much the same. The only major departure I have take is to substitute the orange zest for a couple of thick slices of ginger - I don't really like the taste of oranges with meat, however if you do then feel free to revert to Perry's original addition. All that's left to be said is to serve it with some steamed rice, stir-fried pak choi and either an ice-cold lager or an ice cold bone dry Gruner Veltliner.

1kg Belly of pork, cut into 2-3 inch pieces
Slug of groundnut oil
Maldon sea salt
5 dried red chillies (or generous handful of dried chilli flakes)
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 fresh bay leaves
2 thick slices of root ginger (or 1 piece of orange rind a la Perry) 
Handful of chopped spring onions


1. Pour oil into a heavy pan and set to a high heat until hot enough to fry.

2. throw in the pork belly and turn the heat right down, add the salt and cook slowly for 1/2 hour turning occasionally until the meat is golden brown and leeched plenty of fat. 

3. carefully pour off the hot fat into a bowl to cool before discarding (do not pour it down the sink!) 

4. Meanwhile, place the chillies/flakes in a bowl and cover with 500ml boiling water and leave to soak for 30 minutes. 

5. Remove the chillies and chop (or not if flakes), reserving the water, then combine with garlic, cumin and the flavoured water in a mixer, blending until smooth. 

6. Add the chilli sauce, bay leaves and ginger to the pork and stir through. Keep on a low, low heat, cover securely and leave to braise for a couple of hours (stirring occasionally) - by the end of the process the sauce should be thick and the meat should melt in the mouth. 

7. Season to taste, plate up and scatter with the chopped spring onions...voila!

Slow but simple, a real classic from Neil Perry and an admirable way to spend a Winter's Saturday afternoon.

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