I have a dark secret. I lock myself in a darkened room. I make sure there is nobody around to catch me. Then I do it – I watch TV cooking competitions. Yes, I have even seen a couple of episodes of The Great British Bake Off, where Mary Berry with the help of a comedian (and the girl in the heavy specs), separate the competent from the inept. I’ve sat aghast at some of the efforts on Irish Masterchef. I’ve suffered foul-mouthed tirades of Gordon Ramsey on Hell’s Kitchen from the safety of my couch. Greg Wallace and John Torode regularly put in an appearance, criticising the pathetic efforts of people who obviously can’t cook and should not be asked to try. Why do I do this?
I suppose it’s the same as watching a car crash in slow motion. You don’t want to see the front seat passenger go through the windshield. But, you can’t bring yourself to look away. Once you’ve seen one, you tend to seek them out. So, instead of hanging around at accident black spots, I watch cookery competitions on TV. When I do, I wonder what lunacy makes people want to take part in this mass humiliation. Why do they want to be subjugated by overbearing and overweight “experts” who so often can’t even agree amongst themselves? It mystifies me.
It leads me to ask “Would you appear on Masterchef?”. If the answer is yes, my heart goes out to you. If you are going to do so, you could do worse than cooking my Oriental Belly of Pork Sous Vide. The only problem you will have is getting it cooked in the time allowed. It requires a full 5 hours at 85ºC in the sous vide. There is a deal of slicing and dicing beforehand too. You would be hard pressed to get it done in eight hours. I can imagine Greg Wallace exploding into rage while John Torode admonishes you in his staring Australian way. Michele Roux Jr would have left the building without ever tasting this wonder. So, whatever you do, you would not, could not and should not try this on a TV cooking competition. And do you know what, it’s their loss. Enough ranting, here’s the recipe for Oriental Pork Belly Sous Vide.
Two ingredients shots because the pork needs to be prepared 24 hours in advance. This to give time for the pork to really absorb all that flavour.
- 2 kilo of free range pork belly (bones removed)
- 2 chilis
- 5cm (2 inches of ginger root)
- 3 garlic cloves (or one single bulb)
- 4 stalks of lemongrass
- 2 teaspoons of 5 spice powder
- A small amount of oil
- 500ml (1 pint) of good chicken stock
- Plenty of bok choy (6 heads)
- 4 servings of noodles
Using a sharp knife, remove the skin from the pork belly. Keep as much fat as possible on the meat. Rub the belly (the pork, not your own) with the lemongrass, chilis, ginger and garlic.
Vacuum pack the pork and then leave it in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
At about five and a half hours before serving, pop it into the sous vide (85ºC). Leave it there for 5 hours. Now, here’s the bit you could do on Masterchef. Slice the skin of the pork into strips and then cut into bite sized pieces.
Sprinkle it with some oil and the 5 spice powder.
Roast this in a very hot oven until the skin turns crispy and the whole house smells of spices.
The soup base for this is very simple. Boil and drain some noodles. I was serving 5 people so 4 portions was enough. Use 1 litre of good home-made chicken stock (not possible to make on Masterchef, sorry!) Chop the bok choy (possible within the time allowed on Masterchef). Add the bok choy to the stock. Add the noodles and simmer until the vegetable has wilted. Add a teaspoon or two of chili oil.
Take the pork out of the sous vide and brown it quickly in some oil, on a hot pan.
Within the hour allowed, this bit is possible on Masterchef. Slice the pork into nice big chunks.
Do as they do on TV cookery programmes: “assemble the dish” / “plate-up”. In plain man’s language, put the soup in the bowl and put the pork on top. Don’t be a dork (like they have on cookery programmes) and be sure to serve the crispy bits above the waterline.
This is a dish that transcends the nonsense that is TV cookery competitions. It is truly delicious and spectacular. It takes about as long to cook as an entire series of The Hairy Bikers Ride Roughshod (or whatever). Don’t let that put you off. When you are done, you get to eat it. Trust me, that’s reward enough.