The other day, I achieved the dream ticket: tender, moist belly pork and crisp crackling. Here's what I did.
I had two ribs'-worth of pork, weighing about 700 g and enough to feed the three people in our family who like it. It was top of the range, Plantation Pork, but still cost only about £4.50. I rubbed a little sunflower oil over the meat, and ground over salt and pepper. I turned it rind-side up, patted the rind dry with a paper towel, and salted it. Then I put the joint, in a roasting tin, on the floor of the oven, set the oven at the lowest setting (gas mark 1/4, 110 celsius), and left it -- for seven hours.
The first recipe I saw that recommended this slow cooking at a low temperature also recommended that you place the pork on a rack above water. As I argue in my book, water does not -- as many writers assert -- keep meet moist. Because it conveys heat efficiently, it is more likely to leave meat dry.
Seven hours may have been more than the pork needed. Still, it was perfect.
I have tried various techniques: starting the meat in a very hot oven, starting it under a grill, starting it in a frying pan. None has been reliable.
Some writers advise you to smear a little oil on the crackling; some insist that you do not. This time, I followed the latter course. After all, it's fatty already, I reasoned.
When I took the meat out of the oven, I sliced off the crackling. Some of the meat came away too; I scraped that back on to the joint, which I put on a hot plate and left in the warmth of the grill section above the oven. I was happy to let it rest for half an hour.
I put the roasting tin with the crackling back into the oven, which I turned up to full blast. It's important to keep an eye on progress -- crackling burns easily. This time, it was puffed up and brittle after 20 minutes.
After a good many failures, and complaints from my daughters, I had got it right.
In conclusion: no oil, salt (helps to draw out moisture), a blast of heat (apart from the joint, so that the meat does not dry out).
After belly pork and crackling, a tart pudding is welcome. I got this recipe from Olive magazine.
1 284 ml pot double cream
1 lemon, zest and juice
60 g caster sugar
2 egg whites
Whip the cream, the lemon zest and the sugar until the mixture is thick but not solid. Add the lemon juice and whip again, to the same consistency. Whip the egg whites until they stand in stiff peaks. Fold in to the lemony cream. Spoon in to glasses, and chill. Makes 6. (The portions may not seem large, but are quite rich.)
This has the foamy texture that the word "mousse" suggests but that my chocolate mousses never attain. I used Rachel's Organic cream, which is very creamy; I wonder if a whipping cream might have produced an even airier result.
You have to be careful when you whip cream: it goes from thick to solid in no time, becoming useless for mousses and fools.
I whip egg whites with a small, hand-held whisk (washing it thoroughly after whipping the cream, of course). It's quite hard work. But so is getting out the mixer, assembling it, and washing it afterwards; and the old-fashioned method enables you to get a much better feel for the progress of the foam.