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This simple, delicious and foolproof recipe requires nothing but time and a decent grill. The belly of pork is cheap, relative to other butcher's cuts, and provides the perfect centre piece for a dinner party of any size. It is gorgeous, impressive, and gives the illusion of the most sophisticated culinary expertise without demanding any complicated skills or strategies. The only thing you do need is a little time; the preparation and slow cooking is done in advance, leaving a simple 20 minute blitz under the grill to be done before it is time to eat! My favourite sort of recipe - one that allows you to fully relax into the pre-dinner drinks and nibbles without needing to slave away in a smokey kitchen or panic about anything falling into place. The tender flesh of the pork is contrasted with the airy crispiness of the crackling, and the garlic gravy made from the its' natural juices marries perfectly with the smooth and sweet rounded flavour of the parsnip puree. Serve up with simple greens and hey presto, finito!
Ask your butcher to see a pork belly unwrapped and spread eagle so you can visualise the quantity of meat you are getting. You want to remember that a significant proportion of what you can see is fat, so each person needs a sizeable chunk of belly in order to get a reasonable amount of meat. The butcher will cut the belly according to how many servings you are after - I was serving 8, so I went for a generous helping (with each serving about 10 x 12 cm in size). It is important for you to ask for the fat to be scored (unless you are confident about your skills with a stanley knife) in order to guarantee an irresistibly cripsy crackling.
1. Halve the bulbs of garlic and spread them evenly in a deep oven dish.
2. Open up the pork belly, lay it over the garlic bulbs ( fat side up) and massage in the salt, pepper and olive oil.
3. Pour the wine into the dish so that it lies beneath and around all of the belly, cover with foil and pop into the oven.
4. After two hours of slow cooking, peel off the foil and transfer the pork belly (now cooked through) into another dish that is at room temperature. It is important to choose a dish that you have two of, or that you can easily cover with another for the pressing stage. You want to place the empty duplicate over your pork dish and weigh down with tins, jars and anything heavy.
5. Refrigerate the pork for 4-6 hours (the longer the better, but anything more than 3 will do the trick if you are short of time) and set aside the oven dish containing the roasted garlic, cooked off wine, bay leaves, thyme and pork juices.
6. After it has been pressed, slice the pork into square servings, splash with soya sauce and blitz under the grill for 20-30 minutes (no foil, we want to go for maximum crisp - although take care to check so as not to burn the top).
7. Put the tray of garlic and pork stock on a medium heat, adding the chicken stock and bringing to the boil. Once it is boiling, bring it back down to a simmer and add the sifted flour and a squeeze of runny honey (if you want something sweet).
8. Strain the gravy, but push as much of the roasted garlic through the sieve as you can as it adds a real richness.
9. Remove your pork belly squares from the oven, plate up and drizzle with your delicious roasted garlic and white wine gravy.
The Parsnip Puree.
1. Peel and roughly chop up the parsnips, making sure to move their heads, tails and any nobbly bits.
2. Boil them, and then boil them some more so that they are over cooked and easy to mash (about 30 minutes).
3. Drain your mushy parsnips and add the butter, milk and seasoning before mashing well by hand or electric whisk (i like to begin with a hand masher and then move on to a whisk to get rid of any lumps and bumps).
4. Once it has taken on a smooth texture, add the cream to make it extra silky and reach. Taste to gauge if any more black pepper is needed, but take care not to add too much salt as the juice of the pork tends to be very salty.
5. Smear a large dollop of the puree onto each plate using a desert spoon so that it looks like a professional and attractive bed for your show stopping pork belly performance. Irresistible, cheap, and much less hassle than it looks like!
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