Pork Belly – Braaied and Smoked

Father’s Day is just one of those days… another Sunday… one of the 52 we’re allocated annually.

Not!!

Father’s Day is a day for me to have fun and fun for me is to braai… or take photos… or spend with my family… or to pinch my good lady’s posterior… or to sample a good bit of red stuff… or to blog a bit… or not to think of work at all… or to watch a bit of test cricket on TV… or to chat with distant daughters and sons closer… and relax.

So, I ask, why not do all in one? I decided earlier in the week to try something different. Pork bell/ rib. John, our friendly village meat master had the perfect answer. A whole slab of belly pork with half still on the bone. I did a bit of reading… the usual suspects, Hugh, BBC food, even Master Oliver… how to best do the roast. Only difference, I wasn’t going to do this bit of pork in any oven… I was most certainly going to braai the slab.

I mean… if I can get the Christmas pork roast to crackle on the braai in the middle of winter then I stand half a chance to get this baby just right!

Saying all of that, let’s get the preparation just right. Basically, the Stanley Knife I keep in the kitchen for the express reason of preparing ribs was the first tool to be used. Score the skin, trying not to cut into the meat. Next, place the joint over the sink and pour a whole kettle of boiling water over the skin. I’ve done this before with a pork roast so I wasn’t too afraid of giving it a go.

Yes, I hear some of you shouting at the screen… “No!! You’ve got to keep the skin dry!!”

Yes, that’s where the salt comes in… rub salt into the wounds… rub hard. Then rest a wee while. You’ll see how the salt draws out the moisture. Then use fresh paper towel to remove all the water. Next I put more salt on the skin… no, don’t rub it in again, you don’t want to end up with salt pork. Wait a few minutes and dry off the skin again. I repeated this step 3 times.

Before I go too far, let’s take a few steps back. After the scoring and initial salt rubbing onto the skin I flipped the slab over and doctored the underside. Sorry, the muti is my secret , never to be shared. I wish. Just dry herbs and spices bashed up in the mortar. Oh, don’t forget the olive oil.

Phew… this write-up is turning into a bit of a marathon. I’ll say, part of the preparation was doctoring some lamb ribs, for those in the house who can’t let an opportunity by to enjoy a few.

After all the salting and drying I rubbed in my muti… then began the next part of the drying process. Here’s something you may not read in the manuals. I used the back of a knife to clear off any moisture from the skin. I kept doing this every few minutes for an hour or two. (Time spent writing the first part of this post.)

Begin by clicking in the top left corner… I’ve included the times so you know how long to wait between steps… if you should ever want to try this at home.

The last photo in the sequence above was taken at 13h32. I kept at the drying process until the coals were hot enough and the braai suitably toasty to slap on the slab. That was just after 16h00. The plan was to eat by 18h30 or so… giving a good 2 hours for braaiing and smoking and the 20 minutes for the slab to rest before carving

Slab on.... just after 16h00

The first signs of colour and crisping… all seems in order at this point.

Colour at last... maybe I should have realised I was in for difficulty at 16h44...

Throw on the lamb ribs to get them coloured up as well…

Throw on the lamb ribs to get their colour going... also 16h44

I’m not convinced that the crackling is getting there! Add more charcoal as well as the smoking medium. (Apple grated into the oak sawdust moistened with cider)

The final attempt at getting the crackling crisp was after Junior Son walked out and suggested I turn the slab over… directly onto the grid for more direct exposure to the coals. It sure worked, one could hear the skin crackling and popping. Only thing, we lost the golden brown richness…

A bit scorched? Maybe that plan didn't work as planned!

The proof was in the carving… tasty and crisp!

Eventually... carving at 19h30... the meat was juicy, tastey and tender... even though the outsides didn't look too appealing!

Lessons learned. 

  • Don’t put the meat on foil. At one point the trapped fat caught fire… this leaving a very black underside.
  • Find a large enough stainless roasting dish… place the meat on a rack and keep moist for at least the first half of the braai
  • Make a deflector plate to place over the meat, this will concentrate the heat and make the crackling happen without having to turn the meat over.
  • Put the smoking medium in sooner… on a larger tray for better results.

What more can I say? An experiment that didn’t quite work as planned. Will I try t again? Yes, after incorporating all of the lessons learned. Simple!

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Banana & Berry Loaf

Yes, I know. This is supposed to be a site all about meat and the art of braaiing. So, you’re quite correct in assuming I’ve sort of lost the plot… again. But darn… scroll down just a little and you’ll see what I had to contend with last time I made a braai fire. The resultant frozen mind warp conclusions drawn after that last braai? Two fold, I’ll wait until we have dry wood and charcoal before I braai again!

However, I’m usually in the mood to do something along the food line during weekends. The idea for a bit of a bake began at work. We are fortunate to have fresh fruit supplied each morning. On the odd occasion the bananas are not at their best and the young lad who brings the supplies takes the bruised fruit away. I asked one morning where the fruit goes, half expecting an answer of

“Oh… the chef uses it to produce loaves of … or… or…”

“In the bin,” was his answer.

“No, not anymore…” said I… “I’ll take the bananas home… my GLW makes a great banana loaf.”

So… I took the bananas home. In the mean time I had a brain wave… banana and raisin loaf? Could that be a runner? The GLW wasn’t at all in the mood for my crazy idea. OK, I thought… I do a search on the web to see if the idea was so far-fetched. No, there were pages of recipes. Pages!

I looked at a few of the top ranked and chose the one included below.

http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/6725/banana—raisin-loaf.aspx

On Saturday morning we rooted around in the cupboards to ensure we had all the ingredients required. The raisins were long devoured so we set off to get some of the bits, butter, eggs and raisins. The friendly German store’s raisin supply was also long devoured so my GLW selected a mixed berry and cherry sachet. A lady at work, who had also taken a few bananas to make her own loaf, mentioned blueberries giving a good zing to the loaf so I grabbed a 300 gram punnet for posterity.

Once back home the fun began… mix, squish, squash, beat… fold in… add fruit. At one point during the prep of the bananas Senior Son, my most strident critic, walked into the kitchen to inquire about the activity.

“Banana loaf?” 

He walked off, seemingly disinterested. A few minutes later he was back in the kitchen

“Why must you use rotten bananas?”

Aha… he was concerned that I would again be attempting to poison him, thought I… like so many other times!

“Ripe… soft, over ripe even,” answered I, “Not rotten.” 

Was that a snort of disdain I heard as he went off? Who cares, I was on a squishing roll.

When all the ingredients were well blended the wet mix went into the baking tins… then into the oven. The wait was on, like the expectant father I paced… and paced.

No, I went off to blog. Forty five minutes later the results were there for all to see. And the taste? Well, the hungry horde made short work of the first loaf. I’d say within 30 minutes of exiting the oven it was well gone. By Sunday morning the second one was also a thing of memory. My verdict? Hot or cold, the results are better that expected. Yes, even Senior Son had to admit, it was a winner!

So… Sunday morning I decided it was time to do it all again. For the camera and so I could take a loaf to work. Yes, every time I mention taking the bananas home I get slagged that I can’t make an edible loaf. Well, I beg to differ… here’s the proof!! (Click on the top left pic, then navigate for captions… )

I have a confession to make… we didn’t know where the kitchen scale had vanished to so all the measurements were approximations. The two batches differed significantly. The first was moist, almost wet, that’s why it worked well hot. The taste? Both were good…

Fresh from the oven...

Fresh from the oven… looking great!

Lessons learned? Find the scale… get smaller baking pans for this mix quantity, ie, three would be better than the two bread pans I used.

The softer the bananas the better! Did I say find the scale? Yes… I’ll do it again, using different dried fruit as the mood takes me… banana and fruit loaf… mmmm, good stuff, that’s for sure!

Cut them dear... cut them thick!! ;-)

Update 25 Feb 2014: – The last batch didn’t include blueberries or the dried berry mix but rather I substituted mixed nuts and raisins with the mix mentioned above. Also, as I had a scale to use I went even lighter on the sugar and made sure the mix was sloppy… that makes for a moist loaf… again, devoured by all…

New Ideas for a New Year

Here in Ireland we’re blessed with getting some really great (not so healthy) treats at most deli’s and filling station snack shops. Jambons are by a long way my favourite!! By a very long way. Fresh, just out the oven, they are absolutely marvelous! Lately, we’ve been getting Friday treats at work. It did not take me long to insist on getting savouries as well. JAMBONS!! I insisted. Judging by the rate at which they disappear on Friday mornings I’d venture a guess that they’re quite a few folks favourite as well.

But… you know me by now. Once something catches my fancy I want to add my twist. That led to another quest. Many, many… many years ago… when General Tyres was still Corporal Tyres, we found a recipe for Welsh Rarebit in a children’s cookery book we’d acquired. Believe it or not… we still have the book so, I decided to dash on and make my own version of jambons. Not following the normal route but making a Welsh Rarebit crossed between the one in the children’s book and this one by HF-W found on the Beeb’s site.

Then… just another slight twist… I added a bit of background heat, as my friend Rick Stein (I wish) is fond of saying. so, let me give you the bits as they fit together. Oh, before I forget… I used finely diced steak as the filling compliment… yes, I told you I like putting my own spin on things…

To begin with… a pic of the ingredients from the book… look-see, the illustration is in Afrikaans…

Back in the day... this was the kids delight...

The ingredients… note the mustard, red sprinkle material and sauce from some county in England…

The ingredients... note the red sprinkle dust... for background heat!

Chop the steak fine…

Chop the steak fine...

Milk and cheese starting to blend… add a dash of background heat… or a dash and a half…

Don't forget the background heat!!

Add the flour/ milk paste and continue stirring while the sauce thickens. Also add the mustard and Worcestershire Sauce, a good teaspoon of each. Continue stirring to prevent lumps…

continue stirring to prevent lumps...

At this point I couldn’t quite decide if I should first fry off the steak a bit or add it directly to the sauce and leave it to simmer while thickening. I went with the second option, reasoning that I didn’t want to add anything fatty. Also, as the steak was so finely chopped it would surely not need much heat to be safe for human consumption (I usually eat my steak off the braai pretty underdone so I stuck with my gut feel!)

Add the steak...

Stir a while longer before taking off the heat. Look back at the top photo… you’ll see points 5 & 6, which of course, I’d missed earlier on. So, there I was… having to put the mixture aside for a while.

Rich and creamy... tasty, I promise you!

A few hours later… the mix has really thickened nicely. I’d had a few suspicions passers-by who suggested I was attempting to poison them. (Senior Son is notoriously difficult to please… he pulled up his nose and mumbled some pleasantries… )

Thick, tangy and ready for a bit of oven love!

Now for the tricky bit… the puff pastry and the shaping of my version of what a jambon could look like…

At less that a Euro a roll this stuff's a bargain!

Doesn’t look too good, does it?

Will that be any good??

Soon after… looking better in a bit of heat… (do add a bit of foil to the bottom of the oven in case your darlings burst… )

Bring on the oven love!! Tanning quite nicely, don't you think?

Out of the oven… the first batch look a tad rustic but passable… don’t you think?

Yum yum!! Looking goooood!!!

The first sampler soon tucked in… and the skeptics lined up for more… and more… I had to rapidly do a second batch. I’ll add, at this time we were also busy doing our traditional New Year’s braai… multitasking, yes, we can…

The proof, they say, is in the eating!!!

OK… I fluked a winner, that’s for sure.

A few lessons? Add a bit more background heat… and more steak. Or chicken, lamb… ham, bacon… whatever! Judging by the results I know I’m going to be busy on weekends… perfect breakfast… wouldn’t you say?

Think of it this way… the ingredients for 4 batches couldn’t amount too much more than € 12 to €14… that could keep them quiet for a wee while!

PS – Guess what? While I’m working away at my first day back my family are enjoying this mix on toast… ah well, we do it for love, don’t we?

PSS – I’ll put all the pics in a gallery… then you can read the captions… maybe the main reason is because I like galleries!! Have fun, enjoy the second day of the New Year… and yes, I’m planning a potato bake… pasties… more fun!