Pork Belly Restaurant Style

Pork belly has become a regular addition to restaurant menus over the past couple of years. Its popularity is an indication that people aren’t so scared about eating a bit of fat every now and then, which is good. Succulent, juicy meat with a golden crispy skin, often served with creamy mashed potatoes, pumpkin or sweet potato and some wilted greens, with maybe a tangy sauce or glaze. Delicious.

Getting the pork right takes time, so it’s not something you can whip up in the half hour before dinner. Fortunately most of the work can be done in advance, which is how they achieve perfect results every time you order pork belly in a good restaurant. With this recipe you can do the same. Start the recipe in the morning or even the night before.

I use my coffee grinder to grind up the spices. Son James, a serious coffee drinker, says this is sacrilege. But I do give it a good wipe out afterwards and it makes the next brew of coffee interesting!

Pork Belly Restaurant Style

1.5 kg boneless pork belly, skin scored
2 Tbs olive oil
Spice Mix:
3 tsp dried thyme
1 star anise
1 tsp juniper berries or all spice
1 tsp fennel seeds or coriander seeds
6 whole cloves
½ cup salt
2 cloves garlic
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Sauce:
Reserved pan juices
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs lemon juice
To serve:
Creamy mashed pumpkin (or potatoes or sweet potatoes)
Wilted buttered spinach or kale or roast kale (see below)

Place pork in a shallow dish. Grind thyme and spices in a spice or coffee grinder, or use a mortar and pestle. Mix with salt, garlic and pepper. Rub half over one side of pork, then turn it over and rub the rest into the other side. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight, turning from time to time.

Preheat oven to 150ºC. Rinse pork under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place skin side up on a rack in a roasting pan. Add enough boiling water to come 2-3 cm up the sides of the pan, but it shouldn’t touch the meat. Cover with foil and roast for 4 hours. Check from time to time to see if water needs topping up. Remove pork from oven and cool. Strain pan juices, place in the fridge and when cold remove and discard the fat from the top. A spoonful of this fat mixed into our dog’s biscuits and he’s in heaven! Use a very sharp knife to cut pork into six neat rectangular servings – you might even get eight, depending on the size you want. Recipe can be prepared ahead to this stage.

About an hour before dinner preheat oven to 200ºC. Place oil in a cold frying pan large enough to take all the pork pieces and swirl to cover the bottom. Choose a pan with a handle which can go in the oven. Rub pork skin with a little salt then arrange the pieces on top of the oil, skin side down. Turn on heat and cook for 15 minutes on medium, or until skin is golden and crunchy. Turn pork over so it’s skin side up and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes to brown the bottom of the meat and heat through.

Meanwhile boil the pumpkin, or potatoes or sweet potatoes and mash them with lots of butter, salt and pepper and maybe a dash of cream. Cook spinach or kale in a little butter until wilted, then season, or roast – see below.

Remove pork from the oven. Place pork pieces on a plate and keep warm while you make the sauce. Tip off all the fat from the pan. Add reserved pan juices, honey and lemon juice and cook over high heat, stirring, for a couple of minutes, until slightly thickened.

Serve pork on a bed of mashed pumpkin (potatoes or sweet potatoes) with some greens on the side. Drizzle the sauce over and around the pork. If liked serve with apple sauce on the side – see below.

For a low carb version just skip the mashed potatoes or pumpkin and serve with more kale or some spinach or other green vegetable.

Serves 6

Roast Kale: An unusual way to cook kale is to roast it. Break off pieces of kale 3-4 cm long and arrange on a baking tray lined with foil. Spray with oil, sprinkle lightly with salt, then place in a hot oven (with the pork) for 5-8 minutes or until turning a bit brown and crispy on the edges. Watch carefully as it burns quickly.

Apple Sauce: peel, core and slice two large Granny Smith apples or cooking apples. Place in a small pan with half a cup of water and 2 Tbs sugar and simmer until soft. Use a potato masher to crush the apples into a chunky sauce and serve at room temperature.

Salmon with Pumpkin and Almond Pesto

We had this recipe from Delicious magazine last night and it was just as yummy as it looks in the photo. I made half the salmon and pumpkin – enough to serve two people – but all the almond pesto. The left-over pesto will be nice served with pasta, grilled chicken or steak, or drizzled over home-made wintery soups.

Salmon with Pumpkin and Almond Pesto

1kg pumpkin, peeled, seeds removed
1 Tbs rosemary leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup olive oil, plus 2 Tbs
1 bunch parsley, leaves picked off
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ cup blanched almonds (whole, flaked or slivered)
4 x 200g skinless salmon fillets, pin-boned
Steamed green vegetable to serve

Preheat oven to 200°C and line a large roasting pan with baking paper. Cut pumpkin into 2-3cm cubes and place on the paper with the rosemary and 1 Tbs oil. Season and toss to combine. Roast for 15 mins or until almost tender. To make pesto place parsley, almonds and garlic in food processor and whiz to combine. Add the ½ cup olive oil, scrape into a small bowl and season to taste. I also added the juice of half a lime, to give it a bit more zing.

Brush salmon with remaining 1 Tbs oil, season and add to the roasting pan with the pumpkin. Bake for a further 10 mins or until just cooked. Divide salmon and pumpkin among 4 plates and serve with the pesto and a steamed green vegetable such as beans, snow peas, brussels sprouts or broccoli.

Serves 4

Barley & Quinoa with Roasted Pumpkin & Mushrooms

Once or twice a fortnight we like to have a vegetarian dinner.  Matthew has always been a big fan of barley and I recently bought some quinoa, so I thought I would make a vegetarian dish combining these two grains. The result was delicious.

Quinoa (pronounced kin-wah) originated in the Andean regions of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, where it has been an important staple for 3-4000 years. It’s a grain-like crop, but not a member of the grass family, being more closely related to beets and spinach. The recent popularity of quinoa is due to the fact that it’s gluten-free and easy to digest. It’s also high in protein (14%), magnesium, iron and calcium. There has been some controversy of late over the high price the locals are having to pay for quinoa in South America, the price having gone through the roof due to increased exports.

I know that some of my readers don’t eat meat, so this is one for you.

Barley & Quinoa with Pumpkin & Mushrooms

¾ cup quinoa
¾ cup barley
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
½ cup pine nuts or coarsely chopped cashew nuts, lightly toasted
Chopped fresh parsley or coriander
Pumpkin mix:
5-600g butternut pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2-3cm cubes
1/3 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbs fresh thyme or 2 tsp dried
½ tsp each cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
Mushroom mix:
500g mixed mushrooms (see note below)
2 Tbs fresh thyme  or 2 tsp dried
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup olive oil

Cook quinoa and barley separately in boiling salted water to cover. The barley will take about 40 mins and the quinoa about 10. Add more boiling water as necessary so they don’t boil dry. Don’t overcook – they should both be “al dente”. Rinse and thoroughly drain the grains and place in a bowl.

While grains cook preheat oven to 180C. Mix pumpkin with remaining ingredients. Line an oven tray with baking paper and spread pumpkin mixture over it. Bake for 30 mins at 180 or until cooked and edges start darkening. Clean mushrooms if necessary, tear or cut up and mix with remaining ingredients. Line another oven tray with baking paper and spread mushroom mixture over it.  Bake for 8-10 mins on the shelf under the pumpkin.

Add pumpkin and mushroom mixtures, including any oil and juices, to the cooked grains. Add vinegar, mix gently and check to see if it needs more salt and pepper. Tip into a serving dish or individual bowls. Serve lukewarm or cold, garnished with the toasted nuts and chopped herbs.

Serves 4-6

Note: for the mushroom mix I used 150g of Shimeji, 100g of Enoki (both torn apart) and 250g of button mushrooms (wiped and thickly sliced) – all from Woolworths supermarket. If you can’t find fancy mushrooms use all button mushrooms.

Variation: use brown rice instead of barley.

Thai Pumpkin Soup

I borrowed a cook book from the library last week called Five of the Best by Valli Little.  It was printed to celebrate five years of the Australian food magazine Delicious.  I read cookbooks the way some people read novels and by the time I had finished going through the recipes I had decided to buy a copy so I ordered one from the ABC bookshop.  So far I’ve made several dishes including Tuna Stuffed Capsicum, Cauliflower Cheese Soup, Baked Eggplant with Goat Cheese and Cream and Thai Pumpkin Soup – all very good.  We’re not vegetarians, but sometimes I think it makes a nice change to skip meat for a few days.  Here’s the Pumpkin Soup recipe.

Thai Pumpkin Soup with Coriander Pesto

2 bunches fresh coriander, roots trimmed
(a few leaves reserved for garnish)
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves
4 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp grated ginger (I used a bit more)
1 Tbs Thai red curry paste
1 kg pumpkin, peeled and cut into small pieces
2 cups (500ml) vegetable or chicken stock
400ml can light coconut milk
thinly sliced red onion and thinly sliced red
chilli, to garnish

To make the pesto place coriander, lemon zest, lemon juice and garlic in food processor.  Process adding 3 Tbs oil to make a sauce consistency, season to taste.

Heat remaining tablespoon oil in a large pan over medium head.  Add onion and stir for a minute.  Add ginger and curry paste and stir for a minute.  Add pumpkin and stock, bring to the boil, then simmer 15 minutes or until pumpkin is cooked.  Cool a bit then blend until smooth.  Return to the pan, add coconut milk and season, then warm through.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a swirl of pesto, some onion, chilli and reserved coriander leaves.

Serves 6

Note: to make a more substantial meal, serve with croutons or toast.