ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cider-pig, Cider-pig

I'm as guilty as anybody of maintaining cider's second-class citizenship as a poor relation to beer.

Pork belly in cider
Don't get me wrong. I like cider a lot and, as other beer writers have noted, it has a stronger claim to being our national drink than ale.

But how often do I write about the stuff? About as often as I put pen to paper on the subject of vegan wholefoods and legumes. Which isn't often, obviously.

At the pub I'll only even look at the ciders available when I've made absolutely fucking damn sure that there are no beers that I want. Even then, if I'm honest, it's more likely that I've already walked out, leaving a Ben-shaped cloud of dust for the cartoon landlord to gently prod into disintegratatedness.

And while beer recipes have been hot fodder for a while now, cider recipes are still a bit thin on the ground.

So, what with it being Autumn'n'shit, it's probably a good time to share a seasonal, cidery recipe with you good people. This is a simple and relatively inexpensive dish that really highlights the relationship betwixt butchered pig and fermented apple.

Pork belly in cider

Ingredients - serves 2-3:

Pork belly, rind removed, cut into bite size chunks, about 1/2 lb
The rinds from the pork belly slices, ideally still in longish strips 
Onion, one large or two small, coarsely chopped
Apple, one, cut into thin slices 
Green pepper, one, bitesize chunks
Notice those pork rinds in the background...

Cider, Medium-dry, about 3/4 pint
Cider vinegar, about 2 tablespoons
Dijon mustard
Celery salt
Dijon mustard
Black pepper
Sea salt
Olive oil

To serve:

Rice, ideally long-grain and wild.


This dish takes around three hours to cook, but most of the work is done in the first 10 minutes.

It's a great recipe for using cheap cuts of pork belly with lots of fat on top (but don't go using a cheap, synthetic cider!) I like to serve it with long-grain and wild rice, a smattering of watercress and, crucially, strips of crackling across the top.

First up, you'll need a big pan on a high heat, and once you've prepared your pork and removed most, but not all, of the outer layer of fat and skin, brown it in a little olive oil, adding the onion and mixing it all well with generous quantities of sage, celery salt, dried chives and black pepper.

After five minutes or so, chuck in the green pepper and apple, and ensure that everything gets coated with the spices - it shouldn't take long before big sagey, apply, piggy aromas are released.

Another five minutes, and you're ready to take it off the heat, spoon in a big lump of mustard and pour in most of the cider. Oh, and a splash of cider vinegar. Mix it all up and transfer it to a casserole, then deglaze the pan with the remainder of the cider and pour that into the casserole as well.

Whack it in the oven at a modest 100 degrees, with the lid on, and you can put your feet up for the next hour and a half or so as the slow cooking begins. (You can, of course, cook it far more quickly by not transfering it to the oven at all, but the pork won't be as fall-apart tender that way. Cider-pig is  worth waiting for!)

Cooking the crackling is easy - rub the undersides with a little olive oil and place them on a baking tray, before salting the outer skins - they'll take an hour or so in the oven to get nice and crispy, and you might want to turn up the heat a bit towards the end.

(A little BV secret now: the juices that emerge when you roast the crackling can be added to the rice to give it a slick texture and a salty, meaty flavour!)

It's not too tricky to get all the timings to come together on this one, because the pork in cider is patient and flexible, and will be ready when the rice and the crackling are done to your satisfaction.

Something so fucking hearty doesn't particularly cry out for decorative serving techniques, but the contrasting textures afford you a bit of an opportunity to art up the plate if you so wish.

And to drink with it? Well, there won't be many better opportunities to indulge in a glass of Britain's national drink, will there?


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