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Recipe #9: Roast Pork Belly with Apple and Leek Sauce

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A couple of weeks ago, I went to a birthday party for a Viking Chiro, where much amazing food was served, along with large quantities of schnapps. The most coveted morsels, however, were the fluffy curls of crackling that accompanied the Danish pork roasts. They vanished within minutes, to much contented crunching.

I don’t know about you, but I’d never before mastered the art of crispy crackling. All my previous pork roasts have come with a rubbery outer layer that provides an experience somewhat like chewing glutinous, salty tyres. Imagine my glee when the Viking Chiro’s fabulous wife explained to me (while following the wrong BMW to the ice-skating rink) how easily properly crunchy crackling could be achieved  She told me (while making a sudden U-turn and hot-footing it back towards the N1) that you simply roast your roll of pork in 4cm of water with an onion for about an hour and a half.

A few hours later (with a bruise on my behind and slightly wet jeans) I went in search of rolled pork so that I too could make a Viking roast. Alas, there was none to be found at the supermarket. After 15 minutes of prowling up and down the meat section in disbelief, I found one smallish pork belly hiding behind a few chops. The problem was, the belly was quite flat – not the type of roast my friend had described to me at all. Nevertheless, I bought it, just in case I couldn’t be bothered to go to another supermarket. Groceries are all very well, but I draw the line at doing them twice in one day.

Since I’d correctly estimated my laziness levels, I now had to figure out another way of roasting my pork and crisping my crackling. All the recipes for pork belly I found online said that, at some point, you had to put the temperature of the oven up. However, they disagreed about the temperature (anything from 180 C to 280 C), how long to do it for, and when to do it (either right at the start or right at the end). I decided to be safe and use the hottest oven setting (280 C) for 20 minutes both at the start and finish.

The only thing the recipes did agree on was that you should roast pork belly on top of something. It didn’t sound like it mattered much what: onions, garlic, apples, ferrets (no, sorry, I made that last one up). Since I had lots of apples and a few leeks left over from the chicken pie, I used those. I’m afraid I cannot give you accurate oven times because our dinner guests were late and I kept faffing around, taking the roast out of the oven, putting it in again, roasting the veggies (on a separate tray) at the same time, etc, etc. I did get the feeling, however, that as long as the tinfoil is snugly tucked around the roast, and the crackling hasn’t actually turned black, it would be hard to overcook this.

In the end it turned out perfectly: tasty and tender and with the crackliest crackling I could desire. Our female dinner guest even exclaimed, “Do you work?!”, which, as we all know, is the highest possible praise.

Ingredients

  • 1kg + pork belly roast
  • 3 apples (any kind)
  • 2 or 3 leeks
  • 4 or 5 cloves of garlic
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Fresh thyme

What to do

  • Preheat your oven to its highest temperature.
  • Line a small roasting dish with heavy foil.
  • Slice your apples, leeks and 3 or 4 cloves of garlic and layer the bottom of dish with them.

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  • Scour your pork skin as best you can (it takes elbow grease and a sharp knife), taking care not to slice all the way through to the flesh.
My rather clumsy attempt at diagonal scouring.

My rather clumsy attempt at diagonal scouring.

  • Rub the sea salt, a clove of chopped garlic, the lemon zest and thyme all over the surface of the pork skin and into the cracks.

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  • Lay the belly on top of the apples and leeks and tuck the foil around it snugly so that just the skin is exposed.
  • Put in the oven for about 20 minutes on the high temperature to start crisping the skin. Turn the temperature down to 160 C and roast for at least another half an hour for every 500g (you can make this longer, depending on how well you like your pork done).
  • Just before serving, turn the oven to its highest setting again and leave for another 15-20 minutes, keeping an eye on the crackling to make sure it doesn’t burn (a little bit of black is okay though).
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This is the pork belly just after the initial exposure to the furnace. It got even crispier after the second blast at the end, but I felt it would be awkward to photograph the roast in front of guests.

  • Remove from foil and leave to stand on a dish for 10 minutes before carving.
  • In the meantime, carefully lift the foil out of the dish and pour the apple, leek and pork juice mixture into a jug. Blend until smooth and decant into a gravy tureen to serve with the roast.

Wine pairing suggestion

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Jacques Bruére Brut Reserve

Obviously you need to celebrate your crispy crackling with some sparkly bubbly! Thanks to our dinner guests, we celebrated in 5-star style. Follow it up with the Vrede en Lust Viognier, which is rich and full enough to support the flavours of the pork belly.

Time taken

  • Preparation: 20 minutes (mostly spent trying to scour the skin).
  • Cooking: anywhere between 2 and 4 hours, depending on the size of your roast and the hotness of your oven. Sorry. I did warn you.

Dishes dirtied

  • 1 chopping board
  • 1 roasting pan
  • 1 knife
  • 1 grater
  • 1 stick blender
  • 1 jug
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Recipe #8: Chicken, Leek and Mushroom Pie

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“Don’t ever change anything about this recipe” – The boyfriend, on eating this pie

Chicken is the ultimate pie-filling, yet it’s almost impossible to buy a good chicken pie. If the pastry’s not stodgy, the filling is niggardly:  white sauce with stringy bits of salty bird floating around in a lonely sort of way. Fortunately it’s so easy to make your own!

The secret to this chicken pie’s simplicity is to cheat. There’s nothing wrong with the pre-roasted birds sold at the supermarkets, nor with pre-rolled frozen pastry. Use both, and your biggest headache is going to be chunking your chicken without eating half of it. (My chickens always mysteriously lose both their legs and wings.)

Ingredients

  • 1 medium to large roast or barbeque chicken from Woolies, Pick ‘n Pay or similar.
  • 1 roll frozen puff pastry (‘Today’ brand is good)
  • 4 rashers streaky bacon
  • 4 leeks
  • 1 punnet button mushrooms
  • 1/2 packet powdered cream of mushroom soup (not cup-a-soup – the big packets)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A bit of butter
  • Milk to brush the pastry with
While cooking this pie, it is recommended that you drink cider.

While cooking this pie, it is recommended that you drink cider.

What to do

  • Remember to defrost your pastry in the fridge overnight. If you forget (I always do), you can defrost it in under an hour by putting it in a bowl of cold tap water. (Just make sure the packaging is waterproof, or seal it in a ziplock bag.)
  • Preheat the oven to 180 C
  • Chunk your chicken. As in, remove all the flesh from the carcass (you choose whether to keep the skin. I do), debone and then chop into good-sized chunks.
  • Chop up your bacon, leeks and mushrooms and fry in a generous pat of butter.
My dad made me take this photo because he thought it looked nice.

My dad made me take this photo because he thought it looked nice.

  • When they’re fairly well done, add the sour cream, white wine and mushroom soup powder and stir well. Simmer for a few minutes to allow the sauce to thicken a bit. Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Put this in a good-size oven-proof dish, add the chicken and mix it all up nicely. Leave to cool a bit.
  • In the mean time, put a layer of cling film on your counter top to keep both clean and roll out your pastry so that it just fits the top of your dish. Place on top of the chicken mixture and trim off any excess. Use the trimmings to make decorations, if you’re so inclined. (Pastry is a bit like play-dough.)
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Pastry is a grown-up substitute for modelling clay

  • Brush with milk/egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds if you happen to have any.
  • Bake according to instructions on the pastry packet until golden brown.

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  • Leave to cool for about 10 minutes before serving with a green salad or mash and peas.
  • Leftovers will keep several days if refrigerated  When reheating, microwave for a minute or two first and then put in the oven at about 120 C for a few minutes to crisp up the pastry again.

Wine pairing suggestion

Knorhoek Sauvignon Blanc-Chenin Blanc

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While it’s a great idea to drink cider (especially one as good as Windermere) while cooking this pie, eating it requires white wine – preferably the one you used in the pie (a lesson I learned from the Coq Au Vin). A Sauv Blanc-Chenin blend is just the right combination of crisp and fruity. #Happiness

Time taken

  • Preparation: 20 minutes
  • Baking: 20-30 minutes

Dishes dirtied

  • 1 frying pan
  • 1 wooden spoon
  • 1 chopping board
  • 1 knife
  • 1 oven proof dish