Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Blackberries, apple and barley... with pork

I can't cook today. I'm in too bad a mood. You hear said you must cook with love. It's true. well, the obverse is certainly true: you shouldn't cook when irritated. I suppose you shouldn't do anything much when irritated. Apart from winding people up. I'm really good at that.

I was at peace when I made this on the weekend. It's possibly the best meal I've served at the supper club. It's seasonal, it's British and it's using everyday ingredients differently: pickled apple, sweet and sour cabbage, blackberry sauce. It looks great: wholesome, robust, Autumnal even, and with a satisgfying interplay of vivid colour. It even sounds good in delivery; clicking and humming with assonance and alliteration: blackberries, barley, apples and pork.

It sounds good at the table too. Some guests actually made that advert noise of appreciation as they introduced hot, slippery, tender pork to mouth. There's invariably a stretch of diminished dialogue just after... but not silence. Instead the slightly coy crunching; embarrassed at the noise. The crackling's like seaside rock.

The meat is pork belly, free range and orchard fed, from Normans in Oakwood. I love my visits to the butchers: bag of beef rib and a bit of banter. Consistently good service and probably the best meat I've bought in the UK. Their pancetta is fantastic too. You can smell it as soon as you open the fridge door.

Inside at F. Normans Butchers, 199 Bramley Road, Oakwood.
Slow roast pork belly on a bed of barley, with micro fennel and blackberry sauce. Served with a picked apple salad and sweet & sour red cabbage.

There are eight elements to this dish. I'll list them all, linking to previous recipes where possible.

5. Barley
6. Blackberry sauce
7. Micro fennel

Barley. A grain so often ignored in favour of its sexier and much more expensive shelf sharers. A £1 of pearl barley will feed fifteen people. You can't say that of quinoa or couscous. Pearling is the removal of the bran layer off the grain. It has a pleasant flavour; mild and nutty.

It is simple to cook and much more forgiving than rice on reheating. If anything, day old barley is a better eat. You need around 30g per person for a dinner party and maybe 40g per person for a sofa-sat pig-out. You simply cook the grain in about three times the quantity of water. bring to the boil and simmer for twenty minutes. Lid it, remove from heat and leave to rest until needed. 

When you are ready to eat, the nest hour, the next day... add more water to loosen and bring back to the boil. It's a robust grain and won't turn to glue. You might like it al dente or very soft like porridge. All is good.

To add flavour I boiled mine up with some butter fried shallots; just browning. A sprinkle each of dried oregano and thyme too. You could use stock instead of water of course or a handful of fresh herbs. I didn't on this occasion as I wanted a simple, starchy base.

It's not a looker but then neither am I.

Blackberry sauce. I kept this simple, kinda, resisting anway the temptation to add shallots or butter.

I say 'kinda' (and I say that too often) because although I added only two ingredients to the blackberries they are not easy to find. One is my spiced sugar syrup, the other is this esoteric French liquer - creme de pain d'epices; flavoured with French spiced bread. I've made it in the past. I only added the sugar because the berries were really, really, bloody tart. So much for Sainsbury's labelling. Sweet snacking variety apparently. Snacking? Only if one wants to pull, what my mother would have called, a face with a mouth like a cat's arsehole!

Add a tablespoon or more of the liqueur to the blackberries (couple of supermarket punnets) and simmer gently for twenty minutes. You will need to blend these. Unless they were very sweet you'll need to add some sugar suryp. If you've made the spiced variety, so much the better. The syrup will add a glisten too.

Despite the best efforts of my 2.2 horsepower blender, I couldn't destroy the seeds so you'll need to sieve the sauce before serving. Maybe a pinch of salt and a grind of pink pepper.

The pork cooking is detailed here. One thing to add: make sure to ask your butcher to score the skin parralle with the sides of the joint; squares not diamonds. I find it makes serving much easier if you don't have to struggle against crackling geometry.

To assemble:

Reheat the cabbage with the sweet and sour sauce and set aside on a low heat.
Toss the lambs lettuce in the apple dressing and add the small chunks of pickled apple.
place a big spoonful of barley on warmed plates. Top with a chunk of belly. top this with some micro fennel or, if unavailable (probably) some shavings of regular fennel bulbs, preferably with the fronds attatched.
spoon around some blackberry sauce.
Complete the presentational triangle with a spoon of red cabbage and a fat handful of salad.

Increasingly I think about the colours of the final dish. Green and purple seem to feature a lot along brown.
They do say 'eat the rainbow'. Or is that just the Skittles ad?

Trouble with photographing meat joints is they need sunlight to look good, or at least a well lit studio.
I have neither. So here is my brown slab.

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