Weekends are for cooking. This is a fact. So what better way to take up the entire weekend than by cooking a Heston Blumenthal masterpiece: Braised pork belly with crackling. Brined for 12 hours, cooked for 18. Madness.
Was it worth all the effort? On the one hand, yes: it was a seriously impressive, super-flavoursome piece of meat with a dense bite and great mouth feel. But was it 20-odd hours better than my usual way of slow-cooking pork belly?
Sacrilege, I know, but I have to say it wasn’t. An amazing one-off, but not a whole weekend’s worth of amazing. Sorry Heston!
1kg piece of belly pork, unscored
For the brine
2 litres water
1 star anise
3 tsp coriander seeds
3 Juniper Berries
3 Allspice berries
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
1 sprig Rosemary
2 sprigs Thyme
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
For the braising liquid
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 leek, white part only, cleaned and sliced
0.5 litre chicken stock
Salt and black pepper
Groundnut or grapeseed oil
1. Using a very sharp knife, remove the skin from the pork in one sheet. Roll up, wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge until needed.
2. Make the brining liquid by toasting the spices in the oven for 10 mins, then blitz in a spice grinder. Tie them in a muslin parcel with the zest, herbs and garlic. Combine 1 litre cold tap water with the salt in a large saucepan, add the muslin parcel and bring to the boil.
3. After 12 hours, remove the pork from the brine and soak in cold water for 1 hour, changing the water every 15 mins.
4. Preheat the oven to 70C/Gas 1/2 (half). Transfer the pork to a casserole pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add the stock and vegetables. Put in the oven and cook for 18 hours.
5. After 13 hours, put the pork skin on a wire rack with a tray underneath so that the warm air can circulate all around it. Cook for a further 5 hours.
6. After 18 hours, remove the casserole pot and pork skin from the oven. Turn the heat up to 240C/Gas 9. LIft the pork out of the pot and strain the liquid through a sieve into a saucepan. Return half the liquid to the casserole pot and place the pork back into the liquid, taking care to keep the top of the pork dry.
7. Now, heat the casserole pot containing the pork on a high heat on the hob. Make the sauce by adding a glass of white wine to the saucepan with the stock and thickening with 1 tsp cornflour mixed with a knob of butter.
8. Return the pork skin to the hot oven and cook for 15-20 mins until the crackling is bubbly and golden.
9. Remove the pork from the casserole pot and dry on kitchen paper. Cut into four chunks.
10. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and sear the pork on the dry side, taking care not to burn (as you can see, I didn’t take enough care). Cook for 2-3 mins until the golden.
11. Serve with mashed potatoes, Tenderstem broccoli, apple sauce, gravy and a hunk of broken-off crackling.