As I prepare for another bitingly cold weekend I can’t help craving comfort food. You know, the sort of food that makes you feel warm inside by merely thinking about it. Often this involves carbohydrates like silken mashed potato or a steaming suet pudding. Today, however, my thoughts are drifting towards pork belly.
There is something soothing about pork belly. I don’t know whether it’s the layer of fat under the crunchy crackling or just the sound of it (belly sounds infinitely more comforting than shoulder or loin). It was recently reported that pork in general is becoming more popular in theUK because it is currently cheaper than both lamb and beef. Although pork belly has become a fashionable item on many restaurant menus, it remains an economical cut which responds well to slow cooking.
The recipe below for Slow Cooked Pork Belly with Mead is one of my favourite ways to enjoy this cut of meat. For this recipe, I try to get a cut from the thicker end of the belly as this is less fatty. Mead is a honey based alcoholic drink which is more like wine than beer. It has ancient origins and was drunk at festivals and weddings. The word honeymoon is thought to have come about through the association of drinking mead during wedding celebrations which could go on for an entire month. Nowadays, it can be quite elusive but you may find it at an independent wine or beer merchants, farm shop or food fair. Failing that you can buy it online here or here as an example.
I have provided an alternative to mead just in case you are unable to find some. The combination of dry white wine and honey produces a similar result. Either way the sauce that accompanies the pork belly is not overly sweet. The beauty of this recipe is that much of it can be prepared in advance (and even frozen), so it is a good dish to serve when you have friends or family to dinner. As it goes, it is particularly good with mashed potato although it is equally good with a celeriac or cauliflower puree.
Slow Cooked Pork Belly with Mead
- 1kg piece of boned pork belly from the thick end, skin on and scored*
- 250ml mead OR 200ml dry white wine and 50g honey mixed together**
- 200ml chicken stock
- 1 onion, peeled and quartered
- 1 fat or 2 smaller cloves of garlic, peeled and squashed
- 1 carrot, peeled and quartered
- 1 celery stick, quartered
- A sprig each of parsley, thyme and sage
- Salt and pepper to season
- 15g butter
- 15g (about 1 tbsp) plain flour
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- Pre-heat the oven to 150ºC / 140ºC Fan / 300ºF / Gas Mark 2.
- Place the vegetables, herbs and pork bones (if available – see note below) in a large, lidded flameproof casserole or a roasting tin you can cover with foil.
- Lay the pork belly skin side up on top of the vegetables then add the mead (or wine and honey). Season with salt and pepper.
- Slowly bring the mixture to the boil the cover and place in the pre-heated oven for two hours.
- Remove the meat from the casserole then strain the liquid through a fine sieve reserving it for later use. Discard the vegetables, herbs and bones. Place the reserved stock in the fridge until required.
- Place the pork belly on a plate skin side up and cover with greaseproof paper and another plate. Weigh this down with some tins. Refrigerate overnight. (At this point the meat and stock could be frozen).
- When you are ready to serve the pork belly pre-heat the oven to 220ºC / 200ºC Fan / 425ºF / Gas Mark 7.
- Remove the stock from the fridge and skim any solidified fat from the top of the liquid. Melt the butter in a small pan then add the flour. Cook over a gentle heat for a minute or two until lightly golden. Remove from the heat and gradually add the cooking liqueur then gently bring to the boil, stirring continuously, until thickened. Check the seasoning and adjust accordingly. This can bubble away gently while you cook the pork belly.
- Pour the vegetable oil into a roasting tray and place into the hot oven to heat up (about 5 minutes).
- Cut the pork belly into four portions. Depending on how fussy you want to be you could trim any odd angles or uneven bits from them pork belly so that you can achieve more symmetrical pieces. It’s entirely up to you!
- Remove the roasting tin from the oven and place the pieces of pork belly skin side down in the hot oil. Roast for 15 – 20 minutes until the skin is starting to crisp. Turn the pieces of pork belly over and continue to roast for a further 5 minutes. Serve immediately with the mead gravy and your choice of vegetables.
* If you are buying your pork belly from a butcher get him/her to bone it reserving the bones for the braising mixture and also to score the skin for you. Don’t worry if you haven’t got any pork bones. The stock will be just as delicious. If you need to score the meat yourself just use a very sharp knife and cut diagonal lines across the skin ensuring that you don’t go all the way down to the flesh.
** It doesn’t matter whether you use set or runny honey here.