This is dedicated to the end of economic austerity in Ireland. As is my way, I know what you are thinking. “What has a bit of pork belly to do with financial collapse and years of hardship for an entire nation?” In truth, the pork belly for me has become a symbol of our ingenuity and our ability to make the best of a pretty dire situation. Let me explain my thinking.
When Ireland enjoyed the status of ‘Celtic Tiger’, we all enjoyed the very finest of everything. As a nation, we forgot our heritage and behaved like the pig that fed at trough, unthinking of the consequences of our debt fuelled national lifestyle. It was party time and it was never going to end. It ended. Spectacularly, as we now know.
About three years ago, as things were at their very lowest, I attended a ‘black tie’ function. Every trick in the catering book had been used to get a presentable meal out without re-breaking our already bust bank. The starter was a seasonal vegetable soup. The main course, the highlight in my memory, was a square of pressed pork belly sitting atop a small pile of mash, served with green beans. It was awful. The pork had not been pressed enough and there was a lot of loose fat. The skin was flaccid and inedible. The meat tasteless. The mash was that awful catering consistency when lots of oil has been used and the vegetables were completely overcooked. For all of that, it has stuck in my mind.
Now that we are on the way out of the financial crisis, I thought it would be an idea to cook Pressed Pork Belly with Cider Sauce served with mashed potatoes and green beans. If I could do better, it would be another sign that we are on the way out of crisis and that life is getting more bearable for us all.
- A big piece of pork belly (2 kilo in this case)
- 1 litre of cider (or cidre, if you are pretentious like me)
- Salt and pepper to season.
- A small bit of oil to rub on the skin
You will need to start this dish a day before you intend eating it. First, pour a kettle full of boiling water over the skin of the pork. This will seize the skin and help it crisp up later. Slice the onion and put it in a roasting pan. Add a handful of peppercorns. Add the pork, skin side up. Pour the cider over the pork.
Cover with tinfoil and roast the pork in the cider for 45 minutes in a 200º C oven. Let it cool in the cider. Take the onion, peppercorns and cider out of the roasting tray and reserve to make the cider sauce. Place a second roasting tray (or something flat that fits in the roasting tray) on top of the pork. Fill the top tray with heavy things like tins of beans, to press the pork. Place the, now very heavy, pork and roasting trays into the fridge overnight. Take the pork out the following day (about 45 minutes before you want to eat). Trim the edges of the pork to make it true (that’s a carpentry term BTW) and cut into serving squares.
Side note on serving squares: The squares can be a lot bigger today than was acceptable a few years ago. This is as a result of our slowly extracting ourselves from the economic morass.
Season the squares with the salt and pepper. Rub the skin with a little oil and put them into a 220º C fan oven until the skin turns quite crispy. This will take about 20 minutes. While this is going on, reduce the reserved cider sauce by about half. Taste it and add a little sugar if it is a bit bitter. Serve the pork on a bed (a King sized bed now that we are back in the economic game) of mashed potatoes and some nice green beans. Make a moat out of the lovely cider sauce. It might protect us from the next financial crisis. It might just soak into the mash and add to the lovely flavours.
Just in case you think I have lost the run of myself, that’s a bottle of €9.99 Prosecco in the background. It worked very nicely with the lovely pork. Perhaps a vintage Champagne would have been nicer. But, that’s for another day. We may be on the way back. But, we’re not there yet.