Sunday 1 August 2010

Potted Pork Belly with Mace and Pepper, in the English style

A meltingly tender dish of slow-cooked pork belly, shredded, combined with mace, pepper and salt, packed into a pot and sealed with butter. These could, I suppose, be called pork rillettes, but they're not cooked in seasoned fat, as French rillettes are, and there is something very English about this dish.

Potted Pork Belly
Potted meats have a long history in English cookery: pounding cooked meat with butter and spices, and packing the mixture into porcelain pots, was an easy way to preserve surplus meat for long periods. Elizabeth David wrote a whole booklet on the subject, English Potted Meats and Fish Pastes, which she published privately and sold through her famous kitchen shop in Pimlico. Parts of this booklet (which is as rare as hens' teeth) are reproduced in her book 'An Omelette and A Glass of Wine', and to my fury I seem to have mislaid my copy of it. (Or I lent it to someone: don't get me started on that topic).

In this recipe, pork belly is slow-cooked in a bath of flavoured water until fork-tender. You can slow-roast the belly without water, if you like, but I prefer this method because you end up with a great bonus: a lot of rich, jellied, aromatic stock, which you can use in soups, stews and gravies.

Take the dish out of the fridge an hour or so before you serve it, so the mixture can be easily spread. Clarify the butter if you have the energy (see recipe) but this isn't necessary if you intend serving this within a day or so; the purpose of removing the milk solids from the butter in olden times was to prevent it from becoming rancid.

You can add as much or as little seasoning to this dish as your tastebuds demand: I prefer to keep the spices in the background. It does, however, need a lot more salt than you would think. Lovely with fresh bread or Melba toast, a few crunchy little gherkins and a dab of wine jelly.

Potted Pork Belly
one 1.5 kg pork belly
2 bay leaves
2 medium carrots, snapped in thirds
a sprig of thyme
a few parsley stalks
an onion, skin on, sliced
10 peppercorns
4 whole cloves
flaky sea salt
milled black pepper
1 tsp (5 ml) ground mace (or nutmeg)
cayenne pepper, to taste
2 tsp (10 ml) chopped fresh thyme leaves
½ cup (125 ml) butter

Preheat the oven to 130 ºC. Put the pork belly, skin-side up, in a deep  roasting pan. Pour in just enough water to barely cover the belly: the fat should be poking up out of the water. Add the bay leaves, carrots, thyme, parsley stalks, onion, peppercorns and cloves (but no salt). Cover tightly with a double layer of tin foil. Place the dish in an oven heated to 130ºC, and bake for 5-6 hours, or until the pork meat is so tender you can pull it apart with a fork.

Remove the belly from the pan, pull off the skin and discard it.   Strain the stock through a sieve into a clean jug.  Allow the belly to cool for 15 minutes, then pull the meat into shreds, using two forks or your fingers, and discarding any silvery bits of sinew, but retaining any soft white fat. Now coarsely chop the belly meat: it should look like mashed tuna. (You can pound it to a smooth paste, if you like, but don't put it in a food processor, which will ruin its texture).  Place in a bowl.

Add the salt, pepper, mace, cayenne pepper and chopped thyme, tasting the mixture as you go along until it is seasoned to your liking. Mix well and pack into a shallow terrine dish or individual ramekins. Pour just enough warm stock over the meat to moisten it well - it should not feel wet or saturated. Press down well and allow to cool.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and skim all the white foam off the top. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a few minutes, and then strain through cheesecloth or a fine sieve onto the top of the potted belly. Place a bay leaf or a sprig of thyme on top, and press down well. Refrigerate.

Serves 6 as a starter.
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Colleen said...

Oh goodness how utterly delightful. I could do with some of this right now for a late Sunday lunch sitting in the warm sun like a dassie :o) Thanx so much for sharing the recipe. Im fascinated by potted meats :o) xx

Michael Olivier said...

love the thought of this - as you say a bit rillette like. we used to serve one in our restaurants into which we put toasted hazelnuts.

Jane-Anne said...

Thank you Colleen - like a dassie, indeed! - and Michael. Michael I know you used to hang out in ED's Pimlico shop as a boy. What a great memory.

Homemade Heaven said...

This is a comfort food I could eat lots of...simple and rich. My mouth is drooling and so easy to make.

Kit said...

Sounds perfect for a winter picnic, rich and comforting.
I have no memory of this as an English dish from when I was growing up. I think by the time I was a child in the Seventies, potted meat meant some disgusting meat spread that I would have avoided like the plague!

il sapore del verde said...

Hello dear, I'm an italian blogger end I think that your blog is very nice. I see you again and I hope in your visit on my blog. I like cook and write. Ciao. Deborah

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Your potted pork looks so delicious! Perfect with some good homemade sourdough bread.



Nina Timm said...

My gran use to make this for us....Love all the bits and bobs you serve with this!!

Sam said...

I recently ate pork belly which had been slow roasted over night with an asian marinade, and it was one of the most delicious things Ive eaten. I have now become somewhat obsessed with it and enjoyed reading your post. I have a copy of 'An Omelette and a glass of wine' if you ever wanted to borrow.

Chantel said...

Oh yum! this sounds divine!

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