Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Roast Pork Belly with Pomegranate-Glazed Cape Quinces

Roasted to a melting softness with fennel, orange zest and bay leaves, this pork belly is served with sweet-sharp quinces that have been oven-stewed in a syrup of sugar, water and pomegranate concentrate. Every flavour and ingredient in this recipe makes me jump for joy - I love pork belly cooked with punchy aromatics - but it's the quinces that really make my tastebuds sing.

A few years ago, a quince was rarely to be seen on a supermarket shelf in South Africa, but these days you can find them, during the autumn months, piled in fuzzy yellow pyramids, in selected greengrocers, and in bigger retailers such as Checkers and Pick 'n Pay.

I've mentioned quinces often on this blog (see Quince Jelly, Moulded Quince Jelly, and Old-Fashioned Quince Paste) not only because I love them, but also because I think they're one of those old-fashioned fruits that are in danger fading away into history, along with all those gnarled staples that have become too troublesome to grow, peel or eat on the hoof:  among them prickly pears, celeriac, turnips, loquats and mulberries. Quinces might take a while to prepare, but, like sharp apples, are lovely with roast pork.

And slow-cooked, inexpensive pork cuts have become very popular in the last year or so, as the recession has bitten deep into consumers' pockets: you might be interested to know that the most-searched-for recipes on this blog are ones for pork neck.

Roast Pork Belly with Pomegranate-Glazed Cape Quinces
Pork belly is a dish for devoted carnivores:  it's fatty, unctuous, and utterly delicious, with its melting fork-tender flesh and crispy layer of crackling.  Look, this artery-blocker isn't something you could - or should - eat every day, but as an occasional treat, for a Sunday roast perhaps, it cannot be matched.  It's also dead-easy to make, unlike lamb or beef roasts, which demand split-second timing to reach perfect pinkness.

If you can't find pork belly in your local supermarket, ask the in-house butcher to cut a piece for you. If he  won't, phone your local butcher and order a piece. You can ask for your pork belly to be boned, but I find that it has a better flavour if the rib bones are left in.  Do ask the butcher to score the fat for you, because this is really difficult to do with even the sharpest kitchen knife (but a sharp craft blade or Stanley knife will do the trick).

Roast Pork Belly with Pomegranate-Glazed Cape QuincesIn this recipe, I've glazed the quinces with delicious pomegranate concentrate, which is available, under the Verlaque brand, from Woolworths and selected food shops  in South Africa.  If you can't find pomegranate concentrate, use the equivalent amount of cranberry jelly,  plus two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.  You can add  warming spices -  such as cinnamon, cloves and star anise - to the cooking syrup, but I like the quince flavour just as it is.

Roast Pork Belly with Pomegranate-Glazed Cape Quinces

For the quinces:
1 cup (250 ml) white sugar
3 cups (750 ml) water
a slice of fresh lemon
3 large quinces
3 T (45 ml) pomegranate concentrate (or 3 T redcurrant jelly, plus 2 T - 30ml - lemon juice)

For the pork belly:
1.5 kg pork belly, fat scored
boiling water
1 onion, unpeeled, roughly sliced
6 stalks of fresh fennel
4 thick slices of a fresh orange
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin seeds
2 tsp (10 ml) fennel seeds
1 tsp (5 ml) whole black peppercorns
1 tsp (5 ml) flaky sea salt
2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
finely grated zest of a large orange

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C. Put the sugar and water into a medium-size saucepan, and add the lemon slice.  Bring gently to the boil, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve. Wipe the quinces with a clean cloth to remove any fuzz. Quarter the quinces, using a sharp knife, and then cut each quarter in half again.  (Quinces are rock-hard, and the best way to do this is as follows: place the fruit, stalk-side up, on a chopping board. Slam the knife down hard on the top of the quince, and hammer the blunt upper surface of the knife with your fist a few times. Alternatively, a heavy cleaver will do the trick, as will a potato-wedging device.)   Using a small, sharp knife, carve out the hard pith of each wedge. Drop the quince pieces into the sugar syrup, turn down the heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the quince wedges are just tender when poked with a knife-point. Set aside.

In the meantime, prepare the pork belly.  Fill a kettle with water and bring to the boil. Pour the boiling water, in a continuous stream, over the fatty side of the belly: this will help create good crackling.  Set the belly aside. aside. Cover a deep roasting pan with a long length of greaseproof/parchment paper or tin foil - at least long enough to wrap the belly entirely.  Make a little bed - the same size as the pork belly - of sliced onions, fennel stalks, orange slices and garlic. Put the pork belly, fat side up, on its bed.

Heat a frying pan over a moderate heat and tip in the cumin and fennel seeds.  Toss, for a minute, until the seeds are hot and lightly toasted.  Tip them into a mortar (or similar) along with the peppercorns, bay leaves and salt, and grind, using a pestle, to a rough powder. Stir in the grated orange zest.  Rub this mixture over the top and sides of the pork belly, working it deep into the scorings in the fat.  Pull up the sides of the baking paper or tin foil and pleat together make a loose parcel.  Bake at 160°C for one hour.

In the meantime, remove the cooled quinces from their cooking syrup, using a slotted spoon, and place in an ovenproof dish just big enough to hold the wedges in a single layer .  Measure out 150 ml of the cooking syrup, place in a small bowl and stir in the pomegranate concentrate.  Drizzle this mixture over the quinces, and turn them over a few times so that they are well coated.  Cover loosely with a piece of paper or tin foil.

Turn the the oven up to 200°C. Remove the pork belly from the oven and open up the parcel just wide enough to expose the fat, but not so wide that the juices escape. Put the belly back in the oven, on the top shelf, and place the quinces on the bottom shelf.  Cook the pork and the quinces for an hour or so, basting the quinces every now and then with their syrup juices.  When the pork crackling is golden and very crunchy, and the syrup around the quinces has reduced to a sticky glaze, dinner is ready!

Carve the belly into thick slices and serve with the quinces and some stir-fried greens.

Serves 4. 
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Nina Timm said...

...and that my dear Juno is a thing of beauty. I love belly pork and you have done it to perfection!!

Robyn said...

Mmmm, you sure know how to do hearty winter fare...

Forage said...

gorgeousness! I just love quinces and who can resist a crispy succulent pork belly that melts in the mouth?! When we were kids we used to steal quinces from the neighbours tree and eat them raw with salt.

Maryon said...

This will be good for our long weekend coming up in a few days....and the need for warming fare as the good spring weather we have been enjoying has come to an end. Will have to search for quinces as they are not in season yet..might try some other firm fruit.
You mentioned I long for a loquat. Brings back sticky childhood memories of sitting in the large loquat tree in our Johannesburg garden and stuffing our faces with golden fruit. Never, ever see them here in the UK. And not get me started!

Adele @ WillworkBiltong said...

Looks delicious! I love quinces, and I want to make pork for my mum-in-law's birthday. Is pomegranate concentrate the same as pomegranate molasses?

Jamie Who said...

Everything about that post is awesome. Recipe, styling, shooting and writing. Nice one.