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A perfect pairing: Cider vinegar-roasted pork belly & apricots

A dish that’s perfect for autumnal gatherings, this meltingly tender pork belly, offset by sharp-sweet vinegar and apricots, pairs beautifully with fruity Viognier or ripe Chenin Blanc.

Much of the messaging in food media seems to take a ‘this is what you should be cooking right now’ approach: ‘try this cuisine’, ‘use these leftovers’, ‘eat seasonally’ and so on. It’s probably counterproductive to a (still relatively fresh) cookery writer’s career to state it, but there’s too much choice.

At the genesis of this book, it struck me that we’ve found ourselves looking at things the wrong way around. Aspiring to master new (to us) cuisines, use up leftovers and eat ingredients at their peak are all relevant. But these are distracting sub-themes when there’s something more visceral that sits above them all: most of the time we simply cook the things we do so that we can eat what we fancy.

With that realisation in mind, I set about writing a cookbook that would provide clarity, order and direction when we respond to our cravings – grouping recipes into six sections: fresh and fragrant; tart and sour; chilli and heat; spiced and curried; rich and savoury; and cheesy and creamy. Of course, many of the best cuisines and recipes balance the full range of tastes and multiple flavours. However, more often than not, dishes have a key characteristic or an edge that can be categorised under one of these six flavour profiles. I hope that thinking along these lines, of dominant characteristics and flavours, is a good starting point. It’s a new, if ultimately obvious, framework.


Cider vinegar-roasted pork belly & apricots recipe

I find a craving for something sharp often goes hand in hand with a desire for something rich and fatty. It’s not obvious which sensation I’m really after, although the former is essential to cut through the latter. Does that make the sour element more or less important? Does it matter? Pork belly is one example of an ingredient that needs acid to complete it. Apricot season often chimes with a desire to edge away from comfort food, and the tart notes that appear when cooked go perfectly here (you could use rhubarb in exactly the same way).

Serves 4-6

Preparation time 15 mins

Cooking time 2 hours plus 15 mins resting

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 10g-20g flaky sea salt
  • 1.25kg-1.75kg pork belly (bone in, skin scored)
  • 250ml dry (hard) cider
  • 100ml apple cider vinegar
  • 10 baby shallots, peeled and halved
  • 40g fresh ginger, sliced
  • 6-9 apricots (3 halves per serving), halved and pitted

Method

1. Bash the fennel seeds to open them up. Mix half of them with 1 tablespoon of the salt, then rub that into the flesh of the pork (the base and the sides). Sprinkle the rest of the salt, or as much as you need, to completely cover the skin on top. Refrigerate uncovered for 90 minutes or more (overnight is best).

2. Heat the oven to 240°C/475°F/gas 9. Brush the salt off the top of the pork and discard, but leave any fennel seeds still attached to the flesh. Place in a roasting tin in which the pork fits snugly. Roast in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, during which time the skin will puff up and harden to form crackling.

3. After that time, remove the roasting tin from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 140°C/275°F/gas 1. Carefully decant the rendered fat from the base of the tin into a heatproof container, then pour the cider and vinegar into the tin (taking care not to get the crackling wet). Add the shallots, ginger and the remaining fennel seeds, then return the roasting tin to the oven for a further 1¼ hours, adding the apricot halves (cut-side down), to the liquid around the pork when there’s 30 minutes to go.

4. Once cooked, remove the pork from the roasting tin and leave to rest on a board in a warm place for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, transfer the apricots to a plate or container, taking care to keep them intact. Place the roasting tin (with the liquid, shallots and ginger still in) on a high heat and bring to a furious boil for 10 minutes, reducing the liquid by half to two-thirds so it becomes a glossy and viscous sauce.

5. Pick out and discard the ginger. Serve the apricots next to generous slices of pork belly, with the sweet-sour sauce and shallots spooned over both, and a big green salad and a bowl of well-salted baby potatoes.


Crave by Ed Smith was published in May 2021 (Quadrille) and is available through Amazon UK.

Ed Smith is a former City lawyer turned cook and food writer. Crave, his latest recipe book, won the Cookery Book category in the Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards 2022. His award-winning blog is at rocketandsquash.com


The wines to drink with cider vinegar-roasted pork belly & apricots

You would often use wine as a corrective to a slightly fatty ingredient like pork belly, but Ed has cleverly done the job for you by putting apricots on the side. That would lead me in the direction of Viognier rather than Riesling, which is my usual go-to with pork belly – although if you’re a Riesling fan, a fruity style such as the ones you tend to find in New Zealand would work, too. Viognier has, of course, apricot notes of its own but you’d be enhancing them rather than cancelling them out with the other elements of this dish.
There are so many good ones now, particularly from Australia and South Africa.

Other good options would be Pinot Gris – again from New Zealand, for preference – or an old-vine South African Chenin Blanc. A Vouvray or Montlouis from the Loire would work too. And if you prefer red? I’m thinking Grenache or Garnacha, or a vibrant young Côtes du Rhône. You want younger wines with this dish rather than more mature ones.

By Fiona Beckett

Wines selected by the Decanter team


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