Monday, November 27, 2006

Braised belly pork

After roasting a joint of belly pork a few weeks ago, I thought I would try a braised version. There is a recipe in Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson. You cover a 1.8 kg joint with 2.3 litres of water, including in the broth dry sherry or sake, star anise (3), a cinnamon stick, slices of root ginger, dry chilli, soy sauce, redcurrant jelly, balsamic vinegar, and garlic cloves (30), with coriander sprigs, spring onions and a fresh chilli for garnish.

I had a 0.8 kg joint, and I did not have sake or sherry, cinnamon, redcurrant jelly, balsamic vinegar, or the garnish. But I used the other ingredients, scaled down; and added a couple of tbsps of rice vinegar. Hopkinson tells you to bring the water to the boil, and then to add the meat; I poured cold water over the meat, then brought the pan slowly to simmering point. At that point, I skimmed the surface of the liquid, and added all the other ingredients, rather than doing so in the stages Hopkinson recommends.

I cooked the braise on the hob, because I had another dish to go in the oven. Hopkinson tells you to cover the pan; but I find that a covered pan on even the lowest flame on my hob bubbles more energetically than is good for the meat. I put a heat disperser under the pan -- a Le Creuset casserole; but when all hints of bubbling disappeared from the surface of the liquid I began to worry that the temperature had got too low. I might have taken off the lid; but then liquid would have evaporated, and had to be replenished in order to keep the pork covered. So I spent a good deal of time faffing around, making little adjustments.

No doubt I should have been more relaxed about it: belly pork is a forgiving cut of meat. I simmered it for two and a half hours.

Hopkinson says that you should remove the pork, garlic and slices of ginger to a serving dish before reducing the sauce to a syrupy consistency. There had been very little evaporation from my casserole. Reducing the two litres of broth to a syrupy consistency would have required about half an hour of fast boiling.

I boiled the contents of the casserole for about five minutes, to concentrate the flavour a little. Then I added a couple of ladlefuls to the pork, as a flavoursome moistening agent. I kept the rest of the broth to use in a soup.

This is a typical story of a home cook and a recipe book. You do not have all the ingredients; the recipe does not work as described; but, with a bit of improvisation, you can still end up with something very nice.

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