I have been getting right into The River Cottage series on iView lately. It’s perfect procrastination. I have managed to kill everything I’ve tried to grow in recent years (except a chilli plant which was at the brink of death a dozen times over the summer) so as much as I’m tempted by the idea of the landshare program, I know that for me – while in Perth at least – producing my own fruit and veg is a bit of a pipe dream. I love how they are putting people in touch with where their food comes from, and not just the vegetables but also the meat. Voicing over some footage of a gamekeeper clubbing a squirrel in a sack to death, Hugh reminds the viewer that while that may make them uncomfortable, all meat involves a death. Obviously no one enjoys seeing a fluffy squirrel clubbed to death. On the other hand, (hopefully) no one enjoys the idea of baby cows being separated from their mothers and killed, but many of those people enjoy veal and the products of the dairy industry, so I appreciate The River Cottage politely making that link for them.
Back on topic, one of the smallholders was being given a crash course in butchering a pig carcass (super cool) and Hugh made Rillons to show how to make use of the pork belly. I am a fan of both pork belly and confit, so what’s not to love? We had them hot rather than leaving them to set.
(inspired by this recipe)
~2kg boneless plantagenet pork belly (we used more like 3.5 and I was still eating it 4 days later)
500g lard (or more if you are game, TBP was traumatised by even this much)
6 garlic cloves
3 or 4 sprigs of thyme
fine or flaky salt (not rock salt)
half a bottle of white wine
half a wine bottle of water
Preheat oven to 180c.
Cut your pork belly into thick chunks, ours were about 4cm long and 2cm wide when raw. The butcher did this for me since he was bored and had way sharper knifes at his disposal than I did. Salt the pork belly, and if you have time, leave it overnight or for a few hours.
Crush the garlic cloves with the flat of the knife and slide the skins off them. Hugh said to leave the skins on, but didn’t explain why and I didn’t fancy fishing them out later.
Heat a few tablespoons of lard in a cast iron pot or oven proof saucepan and brown the pork all over in batches. If you don’t have a splatter guard, it’s worth investing in one for this as there was quite a lot of hot fat flying around and I have the scars to prove it.
Once the pork is browned all over, return the other batches to the pan with whatever remains of the tub of lard. Add the white wine (which we decided to use instead of red, in an homage to the recipes origins in the Loire) and enough water so that the top pieces are just submerged. Add the garlic and thyme, and keep on the heat until all the lard is melted and the mixture is just starting to bubble. Transfer to the oven and bake for as long as you can allow. From memory, ours were in there for 2 or 3 hours. By that point the meat should be incredibly soft and tender.
Remove the pork from the lard with a slotted spoon. Heat a heavy based frying pan on the stove and fry the pork (you won’t need to add any fat, obviously) so that it crisps up on each side. Pay special attention to the skin side to see if you can get it crunchy – because the plantagenet pigs are quite young, the skin was tender and sticky and not unpleasant to eat, but just about everything is better with crackling.
The rest of the pork will keep happily for a week, and quite possibly longer depending on how long you salted it for and how clean the storage vessel is. Make sure the top of the meat is submerged in fat, and keep it in the fridge. Getting it back out of the fat in small batches is a bit of an adventure though, so splitting it up into portions so you’re not tempted to re-heat the whole thing would be a good idea.
8 juniper berries
Half a red cabbage
Red wine to taste (maybe half a bottle)
splash of vinegar (balsamic, cider apple, whatever you prefer)
Slice the red cabbage into strips. Squash the juniper berrie slightly using the side of a heavy knife, as you would for a garlic clove. Heat some olive oil in a heavy based saucepan, add the cabbage and berries, and fry lightly. Add the wine, and top up with water until the cabbage is just covered. Simmer until tender, adding a splash of vinegar to taste if you like.