Last week, I came home from work just early enough to catch the tail end of an episode of the Great British Food Revival on BBC2. It was the pork episode and I watched Clarissa Dickson Wright drone on rather soothingly about various rare breed pigs and how tasty they are (I can confirm they are!). One recipe she made was a slow roasted pork belly with anchovies and chestnuts that looked mighty appealing and I went onto the BBC food website to get the accompanying recipe. The recipe listed online was clearly missing a step or two and quantities seemed a bit off; still, I thought perhaps they know what they’re talking about. Well, they didn’t and I had to throw some more beer and water into the bottom of the pan to prevent all the goodies at the bottom from burning. This recipe just confirms that we all need to go with our own knowledge and intuition when it comes to cooking.

Slow Roasted Pork Belly

Anyway, I suppose it was the curiosity about whether chestnuts and anchovies go together that piqued my interest with this recipe. Surprisingly, they did – the sweetness of the chestnuts mixing with the saltiness of the anchovies and really, one can never go wrong with a slow roasted pork belly. While my pork wasn’t from a rare breed pig this time, I did get it from the farmers’ market and it was loaded with flavour. We served it with kale and celeriac puree, the latter recommended by the television show. I’d never cooked with celeriac before and while it’s not perhaps a puree I’d serve with just any old roast, its celery sweetness complemented the savoury sauce created here.

Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Anchovies and Chestnuts
adapted from that on the BBC Food website.
serves 4.

A good slab of pork belly, skin scored (I think mine was about 1kg but you can definitely use a larger slab; I’ve used up to 1.5kg in the past)
3 tbsps olive oil
1 tin anchovies in olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
200g precooked chestnuts (mine were vacuum packed)
freshly ground black pepper
400mL dark beer
1 tsp salt
50mL brandy

Preheat your oven to 230 Celsius.

Take a roasting pan that can be used on the stovetop and heat it over medium heat. Add the olive oil and the oil from the anchovy tin. When hot, add your chopped onion and fry for about 5 minutes. Chuck in the garlic and fry for another minute. Roughly chop your chestnuts (or not…I quite liked them whole if small) and the anchovies and stir those through. Season well with lots of black pepper and pour over the beer. Stir and take off the heat.

Dry your slab of pork belly thoroughly, especially its skin. Rub the salt into the skin, getting it into the scored skin. Place it on top of the mixture in the roasting tin, ensuring that the skin doesn’t get wet.

Place the roasting tin into the preheated oven. After 20 minutes, turn the temperature down to 160 Celsius. Roast for 3 hours. Check it every once in a while to ensure that the stuff at the bottom of the tin hasn’t dried up (and burnt!) and if it’s looking a bit dry, chuck in some water, making sure not to get your pork skin wet.

At the end of the time, check your crackling. If it’s not crackly enough, place your pork (in the tin) under a hot grill and watch it closely. Mine took about 15 minutes under the grill this time but yours might be faster. Crackling!

Let the pork rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving with the chestnut and anchovy sauce.

Whenever anyone mentions Chinese food, the ubiquitous stirfry is always brought up. It’s odd but I hardly ever stirfry anything at home. Many of my favourite dishes, Chinese or otherwise, are braises. There’s something quite comforting about bunging things into a pot and letting a gentle heat do all the hard work for you.

I seem to be coming across red-cooked dishes from the Hunan province of China recently, most likely since Fuchsia Dunlop has recently come out with a cookbook of recipes from that province. Saveur magazine also featured a series of red-cooked dishes in an article a few months ago and this finally prompted me to try my hand at a red-cooked pork belly dish.

The recipe below originally called for dark mushroom flavoured soy sauce and this can replace both the light and dark soy sauces (I use Kikkoman and Cheong Chan, respectively) called for below. I think one piece or half a piece of star anise wouldn’t go amiss either. The results are magnificent – the pork belly fat melting into the sauce and creating a rich liquor to pour over rice. I overate that night…too much rice mixed into all that sauce! And it’s imperative that you eat this with plenty of white rice – plain steamed/boiled white rice!

Red Cooked Belly Pork

Red-Cooked Belly Pork
adapted from Saveur magazine, March 2007
Serves 2.

454g (1 lb) pork belly, skin and bones removed
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 inch chunk of ginger, sliced into coins
5 scallions, cut into 3 inch pieces
1/8 cup (30 mL) Shaoxing rice wine
2.5 tbsps light soy sauce
2 tbsps thick dark soy sauce
0.5 tsp salt
1.5 tbsps sugar

Cut the pork belly into chunks about 1.5 inches wide. Blanch the pork in boiling water for about 2 minutes and then rinse with cold water. You’ll see lots of scum come from the pork – you don’t want any of it sullying your pretty dish!

Heat the oil in a pot or wok over high heat and fry the ginger and scallions for a few seconds. Add the pork belly and continue frying for 1 minute. Add the Shaoxing wine and fry for 2 minutes. Add both the soy sauces and continue for another 2 minutes.

Add the salt and 1 cup of water and bring everything to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. The pork will be quite tender at this point. Add the sugar and simmer uncovered until the sauce has thickened slightly.

Serve with plenty of white rice and perhaps a vegetable dish too.