Friday, 14 June 2013

Dave's Roast Pork Belly, a favourite dish of the dashing dog detective Napoleon Bones

Napoleon Bones (published by
 Random House Struik).
Napoleon Bones is a noble police dog, a crime fighter, a gourmand, and the star of a recent novel by my mother, South African writer Jenny Hobbs.

One of Napoleon's favourite dishes is a succulent belly of roast pork topped with extra-crackly crackling of great crackliness.

I know for a fact that the recipe my mum had in mind when she wrote her book is the one perfected by my uncle, master potter David Walters. 

It's also one of the recipes featured in my cookbook.  Is this book a family affair? Damned right it is! But then food is all about familie, isn't it? (There's a note about this word at the bottom of the page.)

Here's a paragraph from the book mentioning roast pork belly:

We were patrolling in Woodstock on the dog watch, eight to midnight. Spike was off-duty. A sudden gorgeous waft of aromas had my tongue lolling. Roast potatoes and parsnips. Fennel. Halved heads of garlic browning in the juices dripping from a racked pork belly with the crackling just starting to crisp.

Doesn't that sound toothsome?

I've referred a number of times to Dave's beautiful hand-thrown dinnerware on this blog, because I often photograph my food on plates, platters and bowls he's lent or given me.  But I haven't spoken much about my mum, apart from mentioning that I learned to cook at her elbow.

Because her new novel has much to do with food and eating (or wolfing down, arf arf,  in the case of Napoleon Bones), I thought I'd tell you more about it, and about her.

Jenny Hobbs, novelist, and director of
the Franschhoek Literary Festival.
I read my mother's novels with joy and appreciation, but there's often a level of trepidation because I know that at a certain point something from my childhood will leap off the page and seize me by the heartstrings.

This might be a character I recognise, or a favourite expression, or a line from a poem, or a whiff of something strange and beautiful and half-forgotten.

 In the case of her latest novel, I enjoyed juddering belly-laughs reading the droll observations of the dog Napoleon Bones.

Napoleon, a keen-nosed connoisseur and relentless chaser of frisky bitches is, you see, something of a composite of all the dogs I've ever known. Jenny has dedicated the book to all the stinky mutts of my childhood, including my beloved Mugsy, a bulldog of distinction.

Also, the text is scattered with family jokes and sly verbal references that cannot be appreciated unless you were actually there (the Strategic Fart is one example).

And then there's the language. A little-known fact about my mum is that she wrote, as Blossom Broadbeam, a popular column for Darling magazine in the early Seventies.

Her column became famous as a rich source of 'Seffrican', and many of the slang words she observed and used for the first time in print have been preserved in several dictionaries of South African English. I'm proud to tell you that some of these words were harvested from the mouths of her four daughters. (Okay, they're expressions not used much these days, but there was a time around 1975 when it was extremely cool to say 'tit', 'China', 'boney' and so on.)

She's put her keen ear for South African slang to good use in the new book, and I found myself performing the famous coffee-nose-spurt reaction several times as I raced through its chapters.

David Walters Pork Belly
Really crackly crackling, all brown and blistered. 
But back to the food.  My uncle Dave and his family live right next door to my mum in Franschhoek, so there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the houses, and much merrymaking and feasting when my extended family swarms into Franschhoek.

Whenever an extra-special feast is called for, Dave makes his Famous Pork Belly, usually preceded by his equally famous Smoked Franschhoek Trout with Hot Sesame Oil.

I can heartily recommend both recipes to you.

Dave's Pork Belly

1 large pork belly, bone in (about 2 kg, or enough for 8; see Cook’s Notes)
¾ cup (180 ml) olive oil
10 bay leaves, dried or fresh
8 cloves garlic, peeled
milled black pepper
1 Tbsp (15 ml) salt

Score the skin of the belly, not too deeply, into a narrow diamond pattern using a very sharp knife or the blade of a sturdy craft knife. If you’re not confident about this, ask your butcher to do it. A few hours before you cook the belly, put the olive oil, bay leaves and garlic into a food processor and whizz to a fairly coarse paste (don’t add any salt). Brush the mixture all over the scored skin, pressing it well into the cuts. Grind over plenty of black pepper. Cover with clingfilm and let it stand for 2–3 hours.

Heat the oven to 170 °C. Place the belly, skin side up, directly onto the middle rack of the oven, and put a roasting pan underneath it to collect the fat. Roast for 3 hours with the oven fan off, and without letting the temperature go above 170 °C (or the skin will crackle prematurely).

After 3 hours the belly will be soft, juicy and well cooked. Fifteen minutes before you want to eat, take the joint out of the oven and use kitchen paper to wipe any oily puddles and bay-leaf paste off the top of the skin. Sprinkle the skin liberally with flaky sea salt.

Turn the top grill of the oven to its highest setting and wait until it is glowing red. Adjust the rack on which you cooked the pork so the skin is about 15 cm below the grill. Within a minute or two the skin will begin to spit and sputter as it forms crackling: watch it like a hawk to make sure it is not burning.

If it shows any signs of catching, turn the grill down a little, or move the rack down a notch, but don’t remove the pork from the oven. When the crackling is a deep golden-brown and crunchy all over (this will take 8–10 minutes), take the belly out of the oven, put it on a carving board and take it to the table. Serve with apple sauce, a light potato salad and green salad.

Serves 8.

Recipe courtesy of Random House Struik

Cook’s Notes

Order, well in advance, a large slab of top-quality pork belly from your butcher; supermarket pork bellies are of indifferent quality and always too small. If you’re throwing caution to the winds, put some parboiled potatoes in the dish underneath the belly an hour or so before you serve it, where they will roast to golden and fatty perfection


'Familie' is an Afrikaans word that means, literally, 'family'. But it also has several other untranslatable layers of meaning, among them clan, tribe, loyalty, friendship, closeness, familiarity, and so on. Someone who is familie need not be a blood relative - this could be an old friend, or a neighbour, or someone who has been kind and generous to you over many years. A mensch, in other words.

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1 comment:

Kit said...

Drools. Would love to read Napoleon Bones, your mum certainly has a way with words and a dog with a gourmet appreciation of food is one to get to know!