Star anise. I am enamoured with the shape, the smell, the texture, the exotic flavour it imbues into meat and vegetable dishes with a little heat-assisted coercion. It’s so versatile.
Aside from its recent use in my quacking chicken, I also discovered it is an excellent aromatic match to pork belly. That’s right. The non-pork cooker-person is cooking pork.
I have been known to have had a pork aversion in the past. Every time I tried it, which wasn’t often, it seemed to be dry, tasteless and kind of cardboard-flavoured. Yet, after a less-than-amazing attempt at cooking a pork cutlet in February, I decided that I wasn’t going to let this other white meat beat me. Friends Eloise and Trev were the perfect guinea pigs for a first attempt at this dish, which turned out beautifully.
I am now officially a convert.
An aside: did you know that bacon is made from cured pork belly? Check out the ripples of meat and fat in a slice of pork belly next time you are at your butcher’s and you will see a familiar pattern.
Recipe #23: Braised pork belly. With cabbage, apple and mint salad, and roast jacketed potatoes. Serves 4.
This is a bit fiddly to make, insofar as you must prepare the pork belly in advance and it is cooked three times. It really is easy: aside from the searing (cooking technique #1), you can essentially leave the pork belly alone for the braising and roasting/grilling.
For the pork belly, you will need:
• 4 strips of pork belly, bone in [your butcher can cut these for you. I used corn-fed organic pork belly that was approx. 30% fat. From my basic web searches, I discovered that the ideal ratio of fat to meat is 50:50. With the long braise, I don’t think a high fat content is as crucial]
• 1 tsp coriander seeds
• 1 heaped tsp peppercorns [I use Spencer’s mix of black, white, green and pink peppercorns]
• 5 dried lemon myrtle leaves [a big thank you to James – I have now used the last of that sprig!]
• ½ tsp salt flakes
• olive oil
• 4 cloves
• 2 star anise
• 1 stick of cinnamon, crushed into shards
• 2 bay leaves
• garlic clove, roughly chopped
• ½ cup of dry white wine
• 1 small onion, cut into wedges
• 1 large carrot, cut into 8 slices
• 1 stick of celery, sliced roughly
• 1 cup of stock [or a Masel chicken stock cube dissolved in a cup of water]
Prepare the pork belly by scoring it [ie. 4-5 diagonal slices through the skin (or fat). You can cut the skin off if you think it’s too tough – but you may be surprised at how crisp and tasty the end result is if you leave it on]. The pork needs to be dry – mop it with a paper towel before applying the rub.
For the rub, grind the coriander seeds, lemon myrtle leaves and peppercorns in a spice grinder or mortar & pestle. Add the salt and continue grinding until the mix is powdery.
Massage this into the pork belly, ensuring that a heap of it gets caught up in the spaces between the cuts in the skin. Refigerate. Leave the flavours to saturate the pork belly for 1-2 days if you can. I needed to cook mine that night, so 2hrs had to do – and it was still darn good.
1. Sear. Bring it to room temperature. Heat a little olive oil in a saucepan until it is medium-hot. Place the pork belly slices in the pan with the skin side down. It should sizzle. Cook for a couple of minutes, then carefully turn onto another side. Repeat for the other two sides.
This process should take about 8 minutes total. It sears the meat and seals in the flavour. Yum yum.
2. Braise. To the saucepan with the pork belly, add the star anise, bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon and white wine. Simmer until the white wine is reduced to a couple of tablespoons. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer gently with the lid on for 60-75 minutes, turning the pork after about 30 minutes.
3. Roast/grill. Lift the pork belly carefully from the braising pan into an oiled oven tray. Place in an oven that has been preheated to 200°C for 15-20mins.
[While I was lifting one particular piece, a tender morsel of pork just happened to fall onto the chopping block. Of course, I had to test it – and it was awesome.]
FYI, I used the carrot pieces to prop up the pork belly so that it could stand skin-up – but it just flopped to one side anyway. The carrot pieces themselves stood up particularly well to the roasting and tasted quite delicious with the pork belly.
Alternatively, you could grill the pork belly under a hot grill for 10-15mins for the same result. I chose to use the oven because I needed the extra oven time for my potatoes.
Now you should have perfectly tender and juicy pork belly to serve up. Brush it with the braising juices and let it sit while you make a gravy from the rest of the juices. First, remove the celery pieces from the pan. Mix 2 tsp cornflour with about ½ cup of water, then whisk it into the hot braising liquid (your stove should be on medium heat). No additional seasoning should be necessary – just remember to warn your guests of the inedibles (star anise, cloves) or they may be in for an unexpected flavour burst.
The cabbage, apple and mint salad is made simply of:
• half a chinese cabbage, shredded
• a granny smith apple (cored, cut in half, then finely sliced)
• a handful of mint, finely chopped
• the juice of one lemon and half a lime
• a generous swirl of good quality olive oil
• salt & pepper to taste [I use Maldon sea salt flakes]
Mix it all together really well, then add more seasoning/lemon juice/olive oil if needed. It’s so very simple, yet so fresh, crisp and delicious. Make this salad fairly close to serving the meal.
|My treatise on the slaw. I would have previously referred to this salad as a ‘slaw’. Recently, one respected foodie informed me that the key principle of a slaw is that each element is cut to a similar size. I have since looked high and low and can not find anything on the guiding principles of slaw. Nevertheless, my source is far more a gastronaut than I, hence I have amended my nomenclature. Another interesting tidbit, courtesy of The New York Times: the term ‘coleslaw’ comes from the Dutch ‘koolsla’, which means “cabbage salad”.|
The jacketed potatoes are the easy bit, but I have found that a good roast potato is hard to find.
You will need:
• 12 baby potatoes, washed
• 1 large sprig rosemary
• salt flakes
Boil the potatoes for ~20 minutes (until a butter knife can easily spear them). Drain the potatoes, place them atop the rosemary sprig on an oiled baking tray, then douse them with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt. Roast them in a 200°C oven for at least 40 minutes. Crispilicious potatoes result.
Unfortunately for this post – but fortunately for me – everyone (including me) was too hungry and loved it too much for me to take a photo before our meals were demolished. Even the meat on the bone was succulent and moreish [yes, I am loving myself right now]. I savoured every mouthful and know I will be cooking this again very soon.