Sunday, 7 October 2012

A Saturday night in: Pork belly with chili crackling, potato boulangere and apple sauce

Last night George counted up the coppers left over from the trip to Ireland and decided to impose a ban on going out for the next month. Well, he has a point - and if we go out, he gets very lonely in the flat all on his own, but more importantly he doesn't get fed. I also took the plunge and decided to defrost the freezer, which after an hour of dripping water decided to reveal a pork belly and some lamb shoulder steaks, hidden at the back. Now, I know it's not exactly cordon bleu cooking, but lack of funds meant that the meat actually looked fairly welcoming. The lamb went in a stew today with onions, carrots, potatoes and mushrooms (and is also being heated up right now with the addition of some lentils - we still need to eat tomorrow!) but the pork belly and catching up on Downton Abbey went some way to reducing my not-going-out-on-a-Saturday-night sulk. 

Pork belly with chili crackling, potato boulangere*, apple sauce and butter-tossed carrots, green beans and radish

*must learn how to insert accents on letters. Still can't work it out.

1. If you've just rescued the frozen pork belly from the freezer like me, defrost and then treat the skin to a blow-dry with a hairdryer - quite seriously, moisture is the enemy of pork crackling, so the drier it is the better. Massage with sea salt, getting the salt into all the scores on the skin, cover with kitchen towel and leave for a couple of hours.

2. I'm attributing the idea for this dish to a fab recipe book called POTATO that my friends Chris & Cathryn bought me for a birthday a couple of years ago when I found out I was gluten-intolerant. I think their words were something along the lines of "well, you can't exactly eat many other carbs now, can you..." It's actually saved my life (or my dinner) on several occasions. This isn't exactly their recipe but I definitely tried their version when I got the book, and it's migrated to this since.

Chop floury potatoes, onions and garlic all into thin slices. Layer up a dish with potatoes, onions and garlic, paprika, salt and pepper until you have three or four layers (depending on the deepness of your dish). Press down and pour hot vegetable stock until it's at the top of the potatoes, and finish with more paprika, salt, pepper, and some dried rosemary. If you've overfilled the dish like I always do, stick a baking try underneath to prevent a serious cleaning job on the bottom of your oven, and bake for 2 1/2 hours at 170c, or if it's a fairly large dish you might even need 3 or 4 hours - to be honest, the more the better, it really doesn't matter. The potatoes should be crispy on the top and the ones on the bottom should have absorbed most of the stock, and be really soft. I know this sounds really simple but I have never eaten potatoes that I love more. 

2. Pat the extra salt (and moisture that the salt has extracted) off the skin of the pork, and rub in more salt and a generous pinch of chili flakes. Oil and season the bottom of the belly, and pop on a roasting tray above a dish of water. Roast for 2 hours at 170c until the crackling is crispy. The water helps the belly meat not to dry out whilst the skin shrivels up into crackling heaven. 

3. Make an apple sauce - for 2 people, 1 very large or 2 small-ish chopped cooking apples (I like Bramleys) will do, with 3 or 4 tablespoons of sugar, a star anise, and 1/4 litre water. I like to season mine with white pepper, but it depends on how sweet you like your sauce - I should imagine that this is fairly unusual, but I like it with a bit of a kick.

4. Steam some thinly chopped carrot slices and some green beans until almost cooked, then add finely sliced radish, toss in melted butter and season. I like the addition of radish to this, as it gives a little bite to the buttery carrots and beans. 

5. Serve! 

I'm feeling smug cos my crackling was perfect for the first time ever, but if it isn't crispy enough (as usual with me), cheat and separate from the meat before whacking the crackling in the oven for 5 or 10 minutes on the highest heat before putting back on top of the meat. No-one will know - it's meant to look that way, isn't it?! 

The other half also commented that the apple sauce mound was bigger than the piece of meat. Look, I love apple sauce, alright? And no, I'm not American, so it's apple_space_sauce...!


  1. The floury potatoes thing sounds like the one we used to have at home. Sometimes it worked well, and was delicious, and sometimes we used the wrong potatoes which would end up floating around in an unpleasant manner, uncooked and flabby. Yuk.

    1. Yeah, that was supposed to be dauphinoise potatoes Mum cos you used milk.

  2. This dish looks great, I know it's been a while since you posted it but I was wondering if you’d like to enter this recipe into our Gourmandize Giveaway recipe competition. This month the theme is apples so it would be perfect, and there are nice prizes to win – let me know what you think:



    1. Hi Laurence - thanks so much for this, I appreciate the opportunity and I'll have a look at competition.
      With best wishes