Pot-Roast Loin of Pork, Braised Belly, Gratin of Truffled Macaroni
Specialty Equipment: vacuum machine, water bath, digital thermometer, pressure cooker
Specialty Ingredients: black truffle, truffle juice, nitrite salt
Dish as in The Fat Duck:
Pork belly is the lamb shank of the past. Incredibly popular in restaurants, but also, in the eyes of some, becoming overused like the shank. I never really care what can’t or shouldn’t be done and I would happily eat pork belly till the end of days. The first few times I made pork belly I roasted it in the oven on top of some vegetables. It spews out some liquid, an ideal base for the gravy, and with the fat content the fear of the meat drying out is non-existent.
Then I purchased my rice cooker slow cooking set-up. This was before I started thinking about this blog, I just wanted to try the cooking technique (on a budget). If you read the forums on eGullet, one of the (much loved) initiations to ‘sous vide at home’ is pork belly. I really didn’t need any convincing, pork belly was the first to go in my rice cooker (I asked my butcher to vacuum pack the belly). By ‘going in’ I don’t mean a quick dip, but a long ass 48 hours. What came out was like nothing I’d ever eaten, it felt like eating cotton candy. It’s there and then it’s not. Unlike cotton candy the meat was packed with flavor and if you trim it not at all too fatty. Pork belly has been on my menu ever since, so I was already initiated to slow cooked belly before starting this recipe.
I always feel strange expressing my love of food in an elaborate way. I would feel much more comfortable expressing my love of something like the features of Angelina Jolie, so I’ll get on with the dish and not write a couple of more paragraphs on slow cooked goodness. I started with the cooking process 6 (!) days before eating it. You first have to brine the pork belly in heavily spiced brine and rub the rack of pork with salt, lemon zest, garlic and sage.
For the belly I used the breed ‘Livar’, a quality pig released on the market a decade ago as a stand against all the nasty supermarket stuff. I vividly remember eating pork when I was young, bought in local supermarkets, and the extreme aversion to pork I ended up with. Livar is the exact opposite of this type of meat, giving you a chance to convert pork haters.
Brining and two days later refreshing it in several changes of clean water. On top of the belly is some neck of pork, which I may even like better than belly, cooked along with the belly. I thought if I’m going to spend lots of time on a recipe I might as well cook something else along with it.
48 hours goodness. Trimmed.
The meat has to be cut in rectangles and vacuum packed in individual portions.
I didn’t use Livar pig for the loin part of the recipe, because I had an entire rack of pork in my freezer from a breed of pig that may just top Livar: Iberico. A wholesaler near me sells it. The good bit is they sell meat for half the price if you buy it on the day it expires according to the label, because they can’t sell it the next day. With quality meat you could easily keep it for another week or more after the expiration date, it only increases the flavor. One day an entire rack of Iberico pork was sold for half the price and I jumped on it.
The only problem it was French trimmed, not with the chine bone and all as the book asks for. So I couldn’t follow the exact steps described in the book, but followed it as closely as possible.
After a salting process of 48 hours the meat was a bit firmer and took on a lemony odor. After curing the meat it has to be removed from the bone and cleaned until it looks like a clean filet of pork. To give it a more appealing look, a real restaurant treatment, the loin has to be wrapped in clingfilm and shaped into a log.
Just look at the marbling. I think this is some of the best the meat world has to offer.
Since I got a clean cut rack of pork I had less bones, so for the stock I went with pork bits (used for pea soup) consisting of meat and bones. The stock is made in a similar fashion to the quail stock.
What I did and is not instructed in the recipe, is cool the stock. I knew it would have a high fat content, due to the fatty pork bits and the butter the vegetables were cooked in, so I chilled the stock to be able to remove all the fat.
Onions, spices, smoked bacon, butter, vinegar and white wine cooked to a sort of onion compote. It is later used with the cabbage.
The instructions for the cabbage are very precise. Remove the outer green leaves, pick each leaf separately, remove the central veins and cut into strips. I had a hard time resisting the urge to just chop up the cabbage and rest with it being the master.
The base for the macaroni is white wine, chicken stock, truffle juice (and later parmesan cheese) reduced to a custard thickness. I left out the truffle juice, because it is outrageously expensive and when I used it for the lasagne I didn’t like the taste, very synthetic (at least the one I can get my hands on).
The pasta used for the macaroni is ‘zita macaroni’. I could find ‘penne zita’ and ‘maccheroni’, but not a combination of the two. I found a picture of a pork dish from the Fat Duck, closely resembling this dish, and the macaroni looked most like the penne zita. The annoying part of the penne were the diagonal edges. It made cutting the pasta quite hard.
After cooking the pasta a few minutes short of al dente they have to be cooked with the cream mixture to al dente and chilled. They are mixed with pork belly trimmings, vinegar, white truffle oil, pork sauce and black truffle. I added the truffle just before finishing the macaroni.
Instead of ceps I used portobello mushrooms (why over here). I did give the mushrooms a Fat Duck treatment, cleaning and reshaping them thoroughly. I removed the fibers at the bottom, peeled the top layer, cut the mushrooms in a disc shape and removed some of the stem.
Marinating the mushrooms under pressure with salt, olive oil and rosemary (instead of thyme). Vacuum packing makes the mushrooms more compact, quite a neat technique.
Finally, the entire mise-en-place.
To finish I sautéed the mushrooms, heated the pork sauce and finished it with butter, cooked the cabbage, heated the macaroni, added the (Autumn) truffle, added a cream/egg yolk mixture, then gratinated the macaroni and cooked the loin and belly of pork in a water bath of 60°C. It is a post of deviations, so I cooked the loin to 60°C instead of 52°C. I knew some of my dining companions would not appreciate pork cooked to that temperature.
Finishing the belly part, frying the fatty topside until golden brown. It releases a lot of fat, so if you only want the very top golden brown you have to pour out the fat from the pan. If not it also colors a few millimeters of the top. To glaze the top with pork sauce I used a brush.
I don’t know if the macaroni turned out as it should, seeing this picture of the Fat Duck. I wonder how it could turn out that way, not showing the pasta, because the cream mixture has to be absorbed by the macaroni and the egg/cream mix is used in such a quantity it could never cover all of the pasta.
Maybe its an idea to mention what sucked after all the love I spread out in my conclusions these last posts. Well, nothing. It was unbelievably good. The belly, damn. The loin. The cabbage. The truffled macaroni. The sauce. All damn. In the future I’ll definitely will be making other macaroni incarnations. As for the pork, I already am a steady pork eater, so nothing changes there. This dish is a confirmation though, that The Pig is king. For me it is untouchable. Look out for some quality pork and make this dish. Now!
As a note, some of the instructions of this recipe were a bit unclear. The trimmings of the loin of pork have to be reserved, but aren’t used later on. The last part, to finish the dish, is a bit confusing. For one portion you have to use one cabbage, which is a bit much. The cooking of the meat is also inconclusive. The belly has to be warmed to 52°C in a 60°C water bath, but the loin is cooked along with it and there is no instruction to which temperature it has to be cooked. Reading the introduction I think it is supposed to be 52°C, but the belly may take longer to reach that temperature, leaving the loin vulnerable to overcooking in a 60°C water bath. Anyone else tried this recipe?