Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Pelion Dreams

A few years back, my wife and I visited Pelion on the East coast of Greece. Anybody that has preconceptions on Greece being a dry and arid country need look no further than Pelion. Beautiful and almost tropical, searing heat, vast beaches and rolling dramatic countryside. Stunning.

We arrived after travelling by boat, train, and car. Trains Planes and Automobiles. I was John Candy and Helen was Steve Martin. It seemed like an age to get there and with ferry strikes and closed car hire shops to contend with, it truly was an adventure of sorts that had my pessimism at full flow. By the time we arrived in the village we were staying in, it was pitch black and our stomach's were crying for food.

Thanks to the ever-lovely and friendly Greek locals, we were kindly directed to an unremarkable and traditional little restaurant that were eager to serve. Anybody that knows me will know how much of a pain I can be when I am hungry. The look on my face had the owners rushing off to quench me with some fantastic crispy Zucchini served with a garlic hot Tzatziki. A few glasses of home-brewed red wine returned the smile to my face. Next we had a superbly rolled belly pork which had been flavoured with a little orange, cumin and fennel. Alongside a traditional Greek salad, it had my heart racing with glee. Some freshly baked honey cake finished things off perfectly. Any doubts I had on our holiday being a little like the classic comedy disaster were eradicated.

Needless to say, the next 2 weeks were bliss and I fell in love with the people, the culture and the food. I've still to go anywhere friendlier. But the food was a huge surprise to me. For a man who sings British food from the rooftops, I'm a close second with Greek cuisine. It is like proper soul food, devised and cooked from that need to survive and making the most of simple seasonal ingredients that don't cost the earth. Seriously quality tucker.

So this recipe is inspired from that very meal. Using a quality piece of thick free-range pork belly, it is simply rubbed profusely with orange zest and spices then roasted to perfection. Unlike the rolled pork belly I had that day, I prefer a good pork crackling. The flavour of that crispy fat with the correct amount of spice and butter soft meat makes pork belly the best cut of the pig for me. Serve it with a simple salad or some roasted root vegetables with a little lemon and oregano for a perfect, simple yet stunning dinner.

Roast Belly Pork with Orange, Fennel and Cumin
Will easily feed 4 people

1 piece of top end belly pork, enough to fit into your roasting tray
2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 oranges, zest finely grated
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat your oven to 220 degrees C, GM 8.
2 - Using a sharp knife, slash the pork fat in 1cm steps ensuring that the cuts do not penetrate the meat.
3 - In a dry pan, roast the seeds then crush slightly in a pestle and mortar. Sprinkle onto the flesh side of the pork belly along with the orange zest and some salt and pepper. Massage into the flesh.
4 - Turn the belly and place into a roasting tray along with the oranges, halved. Sprinkle the skin liberally with salt, ensuring that it goes into the cuts, and leave for 20 minutes. Pat dry and wipe with kitchen towel (it will leach a little water) then sprinkle liberally again with salt and then pepper.
5 - Place onto the top shelf of your oven for 30 minutes. Turn down the heat to 200 degrees C, GM6, place onto the middle shelf then roast for a further hour.
6 - Leave to rest in foil for 10 minutes then serve in large slices with your accompaniment of choice.

1 comment:

Wiglet said...

Hi David,

Thought I'd give you some feedback on your pork belly with orange, cumin and without fennel seeds because I forgot I didn't have any.

Think the fennel seeds must have been a vital ingredient because the cumin was a rather overpowering flavour (IMHO). My 12 year old son also wants me to pass on his comments. He loved the crackling and (his words) liked the mix of flavours. As he will only eat his roast pork with a huge bowl of apple sauce and this time chose to include a only little dab on the side - That's called a massive compliment from him. He wants to ask you if you have any good recipes for or to disguise brocolli, peas or sprouts? He's spotted all of mine and wants me to try some new ones!

Back to the pork belly - The crackling deserves a paragraph of it's own - great tips. I know you have to score it and salt it, but I didn't know about leaving it for 20 mins nor patting it with kitchen towel and was surprised how much liquid came out?

I didn't cook it on as high a heat as you recommended only because I know my oven. 190c on circotherm (grills as it oven cooks) for the first 20 mins then down to 180c was plenty. If I had it any hotter I would had burnt the crackling which I nearly did.

The piece of belly meat hubby got from our local butcher was enough to feed an army. We thought it would shrink plus we;d heard that belly meat is fatty. Yes it is but it didn't shrink! We had enough for today's meal as well.

My daughter, who detests pork, still detests it and your recipe did nothing for her apart from the crackling.

I don't think I would put so much cumin in next time and will remember the fennel seeds. Loved the orange-y flavour and also would put the 'rub' on earlier to allow the flavours more time to mix right through.

Thanks for your recipes!