File this one in your “Sunday Dinners” roster of recipes since most of us don’t have a few hours to spend after getting home from work and none of us likely want to eat dinner around 11PM. Sundays are made for relaxin’ and slow food rules! One of my favourite cuts of pork are used here – the pork belly, which is exactly that – the belly of the pig which is also where bacon comes from.
Pork belly can be brined (much like bacon) before being cooked, it can be finessed into being cooked quickly when you slice it thin and grill it or it can be braised until tender then given a blast of heat to crisp-up the skin giving pork belly the envious texture combo of both tender and crispy in one bite. Pork belly is one of those marvelous cuts of both meat and fat – not something to eat everyday but it should be eaten by everyone – in moderation.
Another summer has passed and unfortunately our quinces trees have not beared fruit as yet. Last I wasn’t able to find quinces in the markets and I had to rely on slim pickins’ given by friends of the family with their own trees. I found some quinces in early Summer at a Korean grocer stocking quinces shipped from Chile (it would have been Autumn there) and I really have no use for quinces when I’m in shorts and thinking of juicy watermelon and backyard barbecues.
At last, I see some more markets carrying quinces – an extremely fragrant fruit that looks like a large lumpy pear/apple hybrid and although astringent and tough raw, it comes to life when poached, boiled or roasted – the latter use of quinces today. In Greek cooking, this Autumn fruit is often used to make jams, preserves, spoon sweets, desserts and much like in other food cultures – it’s paired with pork, the meat that’s a natural with many fruits.
My approach here was to make the dish as simple as possible, simple ingredients that would complement each other rather than confuse. The pork belly is first given a short period to absorb some sweet and savory flavours – honey and salt, fennel and garlic, rosemary and pepper. After a quick marinate, the pork belly enters the comforts of a warm oven with a homemade stock and some booze: try a bottle of beer, some hard cider or a dry white wine. It’s braised under the meat’s fork-tender then quinces join the party with some potatoes and they get roasted until just crisp and tender and finally a blast of heat is applied so the pork’s rind/skin crisps up – giving you a textural delight in your mouth that you’ll dream of long after the pork is gone. Your welcome!
Pork Belly & Quinces (Πανσετα με Κυδωνια)
1 boneless pork belly, approx. 2 kg.
2 Tbsp. mustard
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. ground fennel
2 tsp. thyme leaves
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary leaves
coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper
2 cups chicken/vegetable stock
1 – 355ml can/bottle of beer or hard cider
1/4 cup mustard
3 bay leaves
2 medium onions, sliced
1/2 bulb of fennel, roughly chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, smashed
zest of 1 lemon
handful of fresh thyme sprigs
2 quinces, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
4 large Yukon Gold or yellow potatoes, quartered (cut quinces and potatoes approx. same size)
Pre-heated 350F oven
- In a bowl, mix the honey, mustard, rosemary, thyme, garlic and fennel and set aside. Score the fat side (rind) of your pork belly in a criss-cross fashion and rub the marinade deep into the meat then season (all sides) with coarse side and fresh ground pepper. Store in a cool place for 1 hour.
- Turn your stovetop to medium-high heat and drizzle a little bit of olive oil in a large skillet (cut the pork belly in two if you don’t have a large skillet and sear in two batches) and sear the fat side of your pork belly until it just golden and place in a deep baking vessel (large enough to contain your pork belly, quinces and potatoes). Pre-heat your oven to 350F
- Drain-off excess fat and in the same skillet, add the beer (or hard cider), the stock, mustard, lemon zest, bay leaves, thyme, onions, garlic, fennel and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings until the flavours are to your liking then pour the braising liquid around your pork belly in the vessel. Place in your pre-heated oven (uncovered) for 2 hours or until the pork belly is fork tender (the meat should flake-off with a fork).
- Remove from the oven and carefully take out the pork belly, raise the heat to 450F and add the quinces and potatoes into the braising liquid and toss to coat. Adjust seasonings (you may want to add some lemon juice or mustard) and place the pork belly on top of the vegetables. Bake for another 40 minutes or until the potatoes and quince are fork-tender.
- Remove from the oven and transfer the pork belly to a roasting pan and set the oven to broil setting. Reserve/keep your potatoes/quinces warm and place the pork belly back in the oven (middle rack) to crisp up. Remove from the oven and allow the pork to rest 4 minutes then place on a cutting board skin-side down and cut into portions. Divide the pork and quinces and place a serving of pork belly on top with some pan juices poured on top. Serve with a lager beer, hard cider or chardonnay.
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