The Food Gatherer's Note: Jason Sutton of the New River Restaurant has shared this wonderful Slow cooked Pork Recipe with us. He suggests scoring the meat into squares rather than crossways.
NEW RIVER RESTAURANT'S SLOW COOKED PORK
Buy a 3-4 kg shoulder to feed about ten, 2kg for 6 people. Don't bother with the supermarket; you'll be needing a butcher not just someone who unwraps meat. Hey, while you're there, see if they have any beef shin, or ham hock. Maybe some oxtail and marrow bones for stock? They're not in this recipe but you'll thank me when you get them. If you're used to those prissy little plastic supermarket packs, the size may shock you. Worry not. We can do this.
Preheat the oven to maximum or 240°C. Don't go higher than this, as something: fat, veg, your actual oven, will start to smoke and taint the meat (and your house) with an acrid smell.
One tip with crackling: have your butcher score the skin into squares rather the the more traditional diagonals. It makes it much easier to portion up your meat when you cut into existing grooves rather than across the glass like crackling.
You need a baking tray large enough to lay out the belly but that will also fit in your oven. If your skin is not scored you might find it a struggle to do it yourself. Pig skin seems designed to blunt steel! One solution, is to first fill your roasting tray with boiling water to a depth of a centimetre. Remove the belly from the rack, place it SKIN SIDE DOWN in the water and boil for 15 mins.This will soften the skin without cooking the meat. Remove the belly from the tray and place skin side up on a clean J–cloth or towel. You should now be able to score the skin finely. You'll still need a sharp knife.
Now you have scored skin, dry it off completely using kitchen roll or a clean tea towel or a new J-cloth. Now rub in some neutral tasting oil - grapeseed or groundnut is good. Grind just less than a tablespoon of fennel seeds with the same amount of sea salt and rub this into the skin. You can rub in other stuff too: sugar, honey, allspice, cinnamon but I prefer to let the pork sing solo.
There's no secret to good crackling although it's obviously harder to crisp up something damp. I think the biggest factor (surprise!) is the quality of the animal. A happy pig will have the right layer of fat under the skin.
Tip the water out of the baking tray and replace the belly on a rack in the tray. The rack is important. Cook in the very hot oven for 15-20 mins until the skin starts to blister. While that's happening, cut up four carrots, two sticks of celery, two leeks and two onions and two green apples. The exact amounts really aren't critical.
Now turn the oven down to 150°C. Use the fan setting if you have it - helps the crackling. Place the veg under the pork (it's on a rack, remember?). Pour in at least 200ml of white wine, vermouth, apple juice, stock or water or a combo of any of these. Take care though as this will be the basis of your gravy. To the now wet veg add a good fistful of rosemary. And I really mean a good fistful.
Roast this (uncovered) for at least three hours. It could be four, five or six - in which case, drop the oven down to 140°C. The meat won't really suffer because there's so much moisture in the fat. Top up the tray liquid if it starts drying out - and it will. Don't let the veg burn or your gravy will be acrid.
The meat will be very tender, the fat should have rendered off into the veg below and the skin should now be glassy and delicious.
If (after the shorter timings) the crackling isn't to your liking, remove the meat from the tray and bake it at the hottest setting again for 10-15 minutes directly on the oven rack. It should puff and crisp up. To avoid setting off your smoke alarms, put some foil in another shelf under the pork to catch drips.
Remove the meat and allow to rest while you sieve the veg and pork juices into a pan. Season the gravy, thicken it if you like (with cornflour or beurre manis). I whisk in some ice cold, cubed butter just before serving - if you do this, the gravy shouldn't be boiling. You'll also probably want to sweeten the gravy too. A pinch of sugar is an obvious choice, but you could use redcurrant jelly or honey or even something like these. I use a home-made rosemary jam... but I would.
I serve the pork with parsnip and apple puree, some sort of cabbage and some pots en pap.