“The only reason why we ask other people how their weekend was is so we can tell them about our own weekend” – Chuck Palahniuk (Invisible Monster)
One of the real highlights of this healthier eating lark is that we eat pretty much whatever we want at the weekend. OK, we don’t spend (every) Saturday slinging back KFC Zinger Tower burgers, but the weekend is when I tend to indulge my pastry vice and eat things like this soy and tahini slow cooked pork belly. I am not going to sit here with a straight face and tell you that pork belly is healthy. You’re not stupid are you? I can tell you that it is absolutely delicious (but then you already knew that) and that it is a total crowd pleaser. It is also, for those with very small children, a great alternative to roast chicken if you are struggling to find a roast that they can eat without teeth (or, in our case, willingness to use their teeth properly). What is also great about this is that tahini is positively good for you and the umami flavours that the sesame and soy lend the pork mean it can be paired with much healthier side dishes than your average roast.
I absolutely love tahini. When I was a kid we lived in Cyprus and as far as I remember we survived on bread and tahini (and possibly the odd slice of halloumi). I had no idea then what houmous was and to this day still prefer tahinosalata (tahini, olive oil and lemon juice) to scoff down pitta bread with. I have never really understood what chickpeas bring to that particular party. Tahini is also the star ingredient in baba ganoush, something I could eat indecent amounts of, if only I could be bothered to faff about grilling aubergines.
Tahini, being sesame seed paste, is nutrient dense – it is full of B vitamins, vitamin E and magnesium, iron and calcium. It contains more protein than milk and many nuts. I use the Cypressa brand but I don’t think there is much to tell between them really and its very easy to find in supermarkets now. It keeps for ages in the fridge – I don’t think we should talk about how long my jar has been in mine though. Soy sauce also has its health benefits, provided you buy a good one without MSG. Yes, it is really salty but the fermentation of the soya beans creates unique carbohydrates that help gut bacteria and aid digestion (like other fermented foods – think kimchee and sauerkraut) and it is thought to be a good source of antioxidants too.
And so, with that bit done, here it is in all its splendour:
NIGELLA LAWSON’S SLOW COOKED PORK BELLY WITH TAHINI & SOY
Crazy Ingredient Rating: Low
You can find the recipe for this in Nigella’s book Kitchen or on her website here. It serves 6-8, but I used 1kg of pork belly instead and about two thirds of the marinade and it was perfect for the 2.5 of us, with (a very very small amount of) leftovers for the next day. I adjusted the cooking time down to around 3 hours (followed by 20-30 minutes for the final crackling blast) for the smaller joint. I would say that 1.75kg would be fine for 8 if that is a mixture of adults and children, but would probably only feed 6 adults as this stuff is like meat based crack.
This does need a bit of advance planning – overnight marinade is best, but Nigella says that a day in the fridge or, failing that, even a few hours at room temperature will all work if needs be. For 6-8 you need
- 1.75kg pork belly with the bones in – skin scored and well dried.
- 4 tablespoons tahini – the paler variety. If you happen to have the more hardcore dark unhulled variety use less.
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce (tamari if you want gluten free)
- juice of 1 lemon
- juice of 1 lime
- Mix together all of the ingredients (except the pork, obviously) in a shallow dish that will just take the pork.
- Add the the pork to the marinade, skin side up. The marinade will come up the sides but shouldn’t touch the rind. I wouldn’t stress about this too much though if there is a little over the edge. The main thing is that the skin stays nice and dry so that you get great crackling later. Cover with foil and leave to marinade overnight in the fridge, if you can – see above. Make sure you take it out of the fridge in plenty of time to let it come back up to room temperature before cooking.
- Preheat your oven to 150C (130C fan).
- Line a shallow roasting tin with foil. This is important! The marinade is guaranteed to destroy your pan otherwise.
- Cook the pork, uncovered, in your foil lined roasting tin for 3 1/2 hours, then turn the heat up to 250C (or as close as your oven will go) for another 30 minutes to blast the skin and finish the crackling.
I have cooked a LOT of pork belly in my lifetime (mainly through fear of overcooking lamb and beef when catering for friends) and in my experience the only way to ensure great crackling is to buy really great pork. You may, however, have your own salt/vinegar/cook it separately technique so you must do whatever you feel you must to get the crackling you want.
EAT WITH: we eat this with some sort of grain (brown, red or wild rice, spelt, quinoa or a mix thereof), sprinkled with a bit more tamari and pumpkin seeds, and steamed sprouting broccoli. It is a great match for the rich melting pork. No, honestly. Nigella suggests roast potatoes cooked in lard and leeks in white sauce. So you have OPTIONS.
Have a great weekend y’all!
Kitchen song of the evening (really has to be): Something for the Weekend – The Divine Comedy (A Secret History)