A true test of friendship is three hours of Singstar Championships only interrupted by a visit from a perturbed postman. My best friend and I have spent three hours competing with each other for Singstar glory. I only won two; once for Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and once for Tina’s ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’. I have decided I suit the kind of songs that demand power clenching!
I urge you not to take from this that my best friend is a good singer. She’s awful and she won’t mind me telling you that. There’s a likeness between her singing and that of Barry White’s and she managed to score more than me despite laughing through an entire chorus of Celine Dion’s ‘All by Myself’ but she sang on and we sang to one another and we cringed as we listened to our songs back. Singing with me for three hours is the kind of thing that only someone who could be called a best friend would do.
I have a different way of showing my friendship back, although my ears bleeding from Singstar does count, and that is through the medium of pork crackling! My best friend loves pork crackling. I have witnessed her eat an entire plate of it. You can probably lure her into dark woods with the promise of poor crackling, don’t though, she’s vicious and would beat you soundly. For the reason that I’m very fond of her and to thank her for being a good old sport, I made some belly pork for her recently and it was so very good that I thought I’d need you to try it too.
The recipe came to me through various things; we have been completely spoiled in terms of plums this summer, the season is wearing out now but it’s been going for a long time and the victoria plums have been huge and juicy. They’ve been lying in piles all over the kitchen, slowly getting a little too soft and constantly being turned into plum jam. I love belly pork but I wanted to serve it with something a little tart to cut through the fattiness and the richness. Also knowing I was going to cook it for as long I could, I knew that it would reach that glutinous stage of roasted pork where the sugars are released and so the plums would alleviate the stickiness of this.
To complement this and to follow the slightly Chinese theme of the pork and plums, I decided to serve it with pak choi, steamed lightly so still crunchy, and mashed potato made with roasted cloves of garlic. The best friend in question is Cantonese so I had some serious impressing to do which made a nice Saturday evening supper fraught with anxiety!
I’ve broken this up into the various parts so that they can be put back together again at the end.
Belly of Pork
I had about six hours to cook this between getting home and the end of Doctor Who and the beginning of X Factor and so I decided to do the longest cooking time I could. I’ve seen some people cook belly pork for about 2 hours and some for about 12 so I decided to use the most of my six hours. I got my piece of pork from a brilliant local butchers who have excellent pedigree in producing quality pork – http://www.dewsmeadowfarm.co.uk/ and it weighed about 2kg. I scored the skin with an extremely sharp knife and removed the ribs from the bottom of the joint to put to one side for another day.
I’ve seen many different recommendations for good crackling but personally, I swear my rubbing the pork skin in vinegar (whichever kind is in the cupboard) and then salt. I know some people put it on a rack and pour boiling water over it but I don’t think I’ve ever had a rack to hand and I don’t feel my crackling is lacking because of it!
- 2kg piece of belly pork (ribs removed, if there)
- 4 tbsp rock salt
- 2 tbsp vinegar (I used malt)
- Preheat oven to 180C and place pork in a deep and large roasting tin. Rub the pork skin with the vinegar, drying off with kitchen towel and then rubbing with the salt. Don’t do this and then leave to one side as this will start drawing moisture out but just before you put in the oven. You could put the pork on a rack which would mean you’d have to spend less time scraping caramelised pork from the bottom of the tin before you go to bed but I don’t think it’s essential if you don’t have a rack.
- Put the pork in and leave at 180 for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 120C and cook for another 4 hrs and 20 minutes. You can poke it during this time, it won’t mind.
- Remove from the oven about 15-20 minutes before serving. Cover and leave to stand. This will suck everything back up and into the meat just in case it’s not falling apart juicy enough for you.
This version of events does produce pork that I imagine is very much like pulled pork in texture and it may be that you find this too soft and too yielding as it’s almost like butter. If that’s the case, cook it for 2 hours and up the initial temperature to 190C and the second temperature to 160C.
Sweet and Sour Plums
I knew I wanted to use star anise and I knew I wanted to use sherry vinegar, the rest was a fairly loose concept until about an hour beforehand. Plums have that wonderful combination of sweet and sharp so they only need these brought out and not hidden with other things.
- about 9 or 10 large victoria plums
- 2 tbsp honey
- 4 tbsp sherry vinegar
- 3 star anises
- pinch of salt
- In a large thick bottomed pan, place the plums halved face-side down.
- Pour in the honey and sherry vinegar and arrange the star anise in the liquid.
- Cook over a low heat for about 20 minutes, rearranging and turning the plums a few times.
- The plums should start to soften and break down at this point and this is where you want them, it’s like a primitive chutney really.
- Taste the sauce, add more honey/vinegar if necessary and then add the salt.
Serve heaped on your belly pork.
I adore pak choi particularly the baby ones which are often sweeter and fresher tasting. Pak means a hundred in Cantonse and choi means wealth and so pak choi symbolises ‘one hundred kinds of wealth, luck and prosperity’. For this reason, you will often see pak choi carved out of jade and placed around the house or worn on a red ribbon (also a symbol of luck). There’s even one in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and is the one cabinet I always stop by on every visit. It’s beautiful and if I remember correctly it’s a snuff bottle from about the 16th century.
You don’t really need a recipe for this but steam them for about 4 minutes or until the bottom of the stems is tender and slides from a knife. Any longer and they’ll be too soggy so keep an eye on them as they cook.
Roasted Garlic Mash
I like to eat roasted garlic straight from the bulb and so this is a winner for me. Throw 2 halves of a whole garlic bulb into the pan with the roast pork for about 30 minutes or until the cloves are soft and caramelised. Remove from the papery casings and mix in with the cream, butter and salt and pepper when making your mashed potato.
It was delicious and I really recommend it. The combination of the texture of the silky pork, the soft sour plums, the crunchy pak choi and the savoury mash just worked brilliantly and won serious praise from the best friend. So much so that she polished off half of the crackling from the whole piece of meat!