Spring is now in full swing where I am and so this weekend a couple of days in the garden beckoned. I planned our dinner accordingly. Pork belly would be perfect, I thought. We’d easily be able to make our son’s rugby, come home, bung the belly in the oven and head on outside, leaving it to look after itself in the obliging way that pork belly does. Misguided optimist that I am. Obviously, the British weather was not nearly so obliging. We had, after all, had a run of sun for at least a week. We were clearly due a change. But where my garden (and husband- he still went out there) suffered, I did not. I’d love to say that with the no- stress slow roast approach that you need to take when faced with a piece of pork belly I found the time to put my feet up, it’s just I can’t. That’s not really how things tend to roll round here. But however you choose to occupy yourself (or if you are me, other people choose to occupy you) in the three hours that you can leave it working its magic in the oven, there’s no doubt this has got to be one of the easiest ways to roast a piece of pork and end up with melt in your mouth tender meat every time and cracking crackling.
Now I’ve talked about my love affair with the Middle Eastern spice mix Za’atar before and this is another one of those examples where its use can change an ordinary piece of meat into something extraordinarily delicious. Za’atar is sumac and sesame based blend, used to flavour meat and fish dishes but I use it in everything from hummus to cheese on toast. Not a traditional spice in English cuisine, Sumac, the super healthy fruit from the Rhus plant with a lovely lemony flavour, has become more popular and well-known over the last few years. It is loaded with anti-oxidants including vitamin C and omega 3 fatty acids so should help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke (always a plus when eating pork belly) as well as having an anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-microbial effect. And it tastes delicious so you can throw it around and season whatever you fancy with abandon. Unless, of course, you’re not lucky enough to be able to pick it up locally; in which case a good recipe to follow is here.
When you get your pork belly home there are a few stages that it is best to follow to really make sure you get the most out of that gorgeous spice rub and it is best to start the day before. Lay your meat out (with the skin scored deeply, most butchers will have done this for you already) in a shallow tray and put the kettle on. Once the water boils, pour it all over the skin. Pat it dry thoroughly (the skin, not the kettle) with kitchen towel, then grind together a couple of cloves of garlic with the za’atar and a tablespoon of salt. Really massage this rub into the skin making sure you get it right into the scorings on the skin. Then simply leave the joint in the fridge, uncovered, overnight. Make sure you allow it time to return to room temperature on the following day and then with relatively little effort on your part, you’ll have the crispiest skin and most flavourful meat going. A word of advice though, put some back before you serve it. After you (well ok, the oven) have been slaving away for so long, you’ll want some leftovers and you really have to look hard to find a better leftover dish than this pork, shredded and served up on a salad of finely chopped fennel, cabbage and apple brought to life with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.
Slow Roasted Za’atar and Garlic Infused Pork Belly with Boulangere Potatoes Recipe.
1.5 k pork belly (treated as above)
1 tbsp Za’atar
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp sea salt
Good pinch of black pepper
2 yellow onions
500ml chicken stock
2 cloves garlic
For the red wine reduction:
A large glass of red wine
3 cloves garlic
A few sprigs of thyme
2 cups (double the amount of wine) of light stock (chicken or veg is fine)
When you are ready to start roasting preheat the oven to 220 deg. C. Peel and finely slice your potatoes using either your food processor attachment or a mandolin and put them in a large bowl with the sliced onions, crushed garlic and chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper.
Put the potato mixture into a roasting dish and put in the oven, placing the pork directly to the shelf above them so that the fat runs down into their roasting dish.
Roast for 10 minutes at this high temperature, then turn the oven down to 160 deg.C and roast for a further 2 hours 45 minutes, until the meat pulls apart and the potatoes are completely soft.
Whilst the meat is cooking, soften up the onion for the reduction in a frying pan for around ten minutes, then add in the cloves of garlic and thyme. Pour in the wine and let it bubble for a few minutes. Pour in the stock and then let the mixture bubble away and reduce by about a half. Sieve and keep warm until the meat is ready to serve.
When everything is ready, cut the pork into wedges and serve with some buttered seasonal veggies and the garlicky red wine reduction drizzled over.