I have a confession to make. I love pork fat. Yep, in this ridiculous day an age, I realize that isn’t a stylish thing to say among some, but er, screw that. People, go read Real Food.
I am particular about my pork fat. Not all fats are created equal, heck no. The fat has to come from properly pastured pigs, naturally raised and from a brilliant breed. I am being a food snob? I don’t care if I am. Taste the difference between properly raised decent breeds of pig, and the stuff you find at a supermarket, and I would be surprised if anyone didn’t agree with me.
Recently any kind of saturated fat has got a bad name. And I can understand that. Animals that are fed a crappy diet just to fatten them up in cruel feed lots, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics – yes, that isn’t high quality fat at all. That stuff will kill you. The fat you get from a properly raised pig is completely different. A far better blend of omega 3s, 6s, and 9s. No hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, just meat and fat as it is meant to be.
What might surprise you is that I am not some hugely overweight cook, who gorges on pork back all day. I am a lanky 6ft bloke, with a healthy appetite.
The fact of the matter is, your body needs saturated fat for a number of functions, including (but not limited to) digestion and brain function (the majority of your brain is saturated fat).
OK… fat rant over. Back to the meal.
So where oh where to get decent pork from. Thankfully there is actually a few places to choose from at local farmers markets here in Washington. There are a few places that breed Berkshire pigs – a breed that has been adopted by the local restaurant scene. Berkshire’s are great – they are one of the oldest English breeds of pig. I wasn’t interested in the Berkshire this time. I have tasted Berkshire pork quite a bit, and do like it.
Oh no, I was after some meat from a Mangalista. A what you say? My spell check doesn’t recognize that. This is a Hungarian breed of pig that has recently been introduced to the US by Heath Putnam at Wooly Pigs, a local Washington state pig breeder. I cannot begin to tell you how impressed I am with Heath, and his pigs. This bloke really cares about his animals, and has gone to extraordinary lengths to breed these pigs extremely well, using the Austrian method of pig farming. To talk about how he does it would be ridiculous for me – I have no idea, I will leave that up to him!! All I can say is that the meat (and fat) I got from him was the best tasting pork I have ever eaten, by a country mile. Hats off to Heath and his Mangalitsa pigs, they are bloody awesome.
Right now he is the only supplier of this breed of pork in the US (I believe), and can be seen at the University farmers market in Seattle on Saturdays. To top it off, he is a really nice bloke too, with a big bacon habit!
OK – so what did I get from Heath? Well, I got a chunk of short-ribs with a bit of belly still attached. Since this cut has quite a bit of fat (Heath estimated it was 85% fat), a slow cooking method seemed most appropriate. Braising it was to be.
I decided to pan-sear the pork, fat side down, after scoring it, to render out some of the fat, and slightly brown the fat. This fat that was rendered out I kept to roast the parsnips and potatoes in. From here I simply braised the pork for a few hours with a mixture of onion, celery, carrot, white wine, herbs and chicken stock. This was served over some roasted potatoes and parsnips, with a simple reduction of the skimmed braising liquid.
The result was simply un-sodding-believable. The meat was ridiculously tender, the fat was completely divine. I have honestly never tasted pork this good. Talk about a revelation.
Oh – quite a few braising recipes for pork also use some kind of spice rub on the pork. When you have pork this good, I honestly feel like that is doing the meat a disservice.
So, without further ado, the recipe.
Braised Pork Spare rib and belly, lard roasted parsnips and fingerlings
(serves 4 to 5)
1.5lb Pork spare rib and belly, with as much fat still attached as possible
1 onion – chopped
2 celery stalks – chopped
1 large carrot – chopped
1 clove of garlic – chopped
3 cups of chicken stock
1 cup of white wine
3 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
small handful of fresh parsley
a few sage leaves
salt and pepper
6 to 8 small fingerling potatoes, cut into 1/4″ slices
5 parsnips, cut lengthwise into quarters (8ths if they are really fat parsnips)
Turn you oven to 325F
Cut the pork belly from the short rib if still attached. Score the fat lightly by making diagonal cuts about 1 inch apart, across the fat. Now score in the opposite direction to form a checker pattern. Season the meat on all sides with salt and pepper.
In a small saucepan heat up the chicken stock until almost boiling.
In a large saute pan, over a medium heat saute the meat, fat side down, until it is lightly browned, and some fat has come out of the meat. Put the meat to one side, and pour out the pork fat. Put a little back in the pan, and saute the onion, celery, carrot and garlic for about 5 minutes, or until slightly soft. Pour in the cup of wine, and turn up the heat. Reduce this until the wine is almost gone.
Put the meat into a heavy roasting dish. Pour the vegetable/wine mixture over the pork. Add about 2/3’s of the chicken stock to the roasting pan. The liquid should come up to just over half way on the meat. Add more if required. Finally, toss in the thyme, bay, parsley and sage, and gently mix around the pork. Cover loosely with some foil (leaving a little hole to let some of the moisture out) and bung it into the preheated oven.
Wait a couple of hours. This is the hardest bit. It is going to take between 2.5 and 3 hours to fully braise. The meat should look like it would easily flake off the bone.
When done, remove from the oven, and let the meat cool in the braising liquid.
Turn up the oven to 425F
Get a large pot of water boiling, and throw in the parsnips and potatoes. Put another roasting dish in the oven to preheat (large enough for the potatoes and parsnips). Boil the veg until almost tender, but still has some bite. Drain them. Take the preheated pan out of the oven, and add a couple of tablespoons of the pork fat (lard) that you got out of the meat at the beginning. When the fat has melted, toss in the parsnips and potatoes, and gently mix. Roast this in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy.
With about 10 minutes left to go on the veg, heat up a large saute pan, and put the meat in it fat side down, just to crisp up the fat layer. When this is crisp, just pop the meat back in the oven to warm through. As you are doing this, pass the braising liquid through a coarse strainer. Now pass it through a really fine sieve, or cheesecloth. The idea here is to get rid of any solids in the liquid. Pour this into a measuring jug. If there is any fat in the liquid, it will settle on top of all the great pork juice. Using a turkey baster, suck up the pork juice, and squirt it into a small saute pan. Add a little of the left over chicken stock. Get this liquid boiling, and reduce it a little. Add enough chicken stock so that you have enough of this sauce to serve everybody.
OK. time to eat. Take the meat out of the oven, and cut into 4 sections (if you are serving 4 people). Take out the vegetables, and arrange them in the center of the plate. Pour over a little of your reduced braising liquid sauce, and then top with the braised pork.
Eat it really really slowly. Enjoy this one. It is brilliant.