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Aromatic pork belly hotpot

My husband absolutely loves Chinese food. If you want to make him seriously happy, ring him up and say “Shall we go out for dim sum?” This year for his birthday I am going to make a thing happen that I’ve failed to every year we’ve been together to do, and organise a party at a Chinese restaurant, get one of those tables with a big swirly round glass rotating thing in the middle. It’s all he wants really, ever – to be about to sit down to a big spread of Chinese platefuls.

But as well as dainty dim sum bites, he also likes the scarier aspects of Chinese food; he is completely down with the Chinese love of texture – finding a plateful of cold jellyfish or chicken’s feet as interesteing as a steamed pork bun. Often even more so.

I’ve never had that much success cooking Chinese food. Curries are easy, but I start out trying to make something Chinese and it turns into a Thai stir-fry.

But the other day I stumbled across a recipe for an Aromatic (i.e. Chinese) pork belly hotpot. There is a very famous Singaporean restaurant in North London called Singapore Garden, which does something very similar and I thought I would re-create it for Giles last night.

Because he is a bit down in the dumps, my husband. He is so, so bored. It is dark. We are not in the middle of an exciting boxset. I am grumpy and fat and not interested in anything except lying down and not being spoken to or looked directly in the eye.

Anyway this thing, from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, was absolutely terrific. Really amazing. And very simple, in fact – it only required a few things and the prep was easy.

I had been considering doing a Massaman curry but the list of ingredients was quite bonkers. Reading it and losing more and more heart as the ingredient list went endlessly on brought to mind that thing of when someone suggests a night out and it all sounds great but then they start saying “… the restaurant’s in Putney… then we could all go out dancing….” and you look outside and it’s just started snowing again and you say “Oh actually I think I’ve got a bit of a throat coming on, might give it a miss *Click Brrrr.*”

So if you like the sound of this hotpot, please give it a go because it produces something really quite echt and marvellous. It is, because it is pork belly, quite fatty and glutionous, so if you’ve got a bit of a “thing” about fat, this isn’t for you. I mostly mean you, Becky B.

The only other drawback is that, like a lot of Chinese food, that it makes you thirsty as hell afterwards.

Aromatic Pork Belly Hotpot
Serves 4

1kg pork belly, skin on
8 spring onions
dried chillies
1 fresh red chilli
1 pint chicken stock
100ml light soy sauce (absolutely not dark)
75ml Chinese rice or mirin wine
25ml rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp light brown sugar
3 star anise fruits (fruits??? have always thought that was stupid)
10cm fresh ginger peeled and cut into slim pieces. Yes I know it is hard with a knobbly bit of ginger to achieve this, but just do your best
4 nests of fine egg noodles per person
4 little whatsits of baby bok choi per person

1 Chop up your belly into chunks, leaving the skin on

2 Put it in a pot and cover it with boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes. Scoop off the yukky scum that floats to the top. Try to ignore the slightly nasty porky stench.

3 Drain the pork, give the pan a rinse and then put the meat back in. Chop 5 spring onions in half and chuck these in then add the stock, soy sauce, rice wine, rice vinegar, sugar, star anise, ginger and a good pinch of dried chilli.

4 Now simmer all this for 2 hours with a lid firmly on.

5 After this time, lift the pork out with a slotted spoon and put to one side. If you have a gravy separator, run the remaining liquid through it to get the worst of the grease off. If you don’t, do your best skimming the top off the liquid with a spoon.

6 Now boil the liquid briskly to reduce it a bit. Keep tasting as it boils because what you don’t want is to reduce it too much and just get a far, far too salty thing. Better it still be a bit runny but edible.

7 Put the pork back into the liquid and turn the bok choi in the stew for 5-10 mins to steam.

8 Serve on a bed of noodles with some fresh chilli (no seeds) and spring onions cut on the diagonal over the top.

Eat and try to look on the bright side.

 

Slow cooked pork belly in cider gravy

Leftover pork

Someone said to me the other day – it must have been on Twitter – that she was annoyed by suggestions from television or celebrity chefs of what to do with “leftover cheese”.

“There is never,” she said “leftover cheese in my house.”

I know what she means. I know what to do with leftover cheese, or leftover chicken or leftover lamb: you put it in a fucking sandwich. Or you eat it out of the foil, cold, with your tremblingly ravenous fingers, dipped hastily in mayonnaise, or recurrant jelly or mango chutney or whatever.

But – I had cause the other day to have some leftover pork belly. If you do not cook pork belly frantically at any opportunity, then you are a fool, by the way. It costs about 9p to feed 18 people and you just rub it with salt and then put it in the oven at 140C for 4 hours. If you want crackling you turn the oven up to full whack for 20 mins at the end.

Anyway so I had this leftover pork belly and I couldn’t put it in a sandwich, because dun dun DUUNN I am on a DIET.

A very serious diet, too. No carbs, no sugar, no drinking during the week. And no sandwiches.

“Oh but you’ve just had a baby” everyone says. “Give yourself a break.”

NO THANKS!!! Don’t want to be fat anymore, ta. Bored with it now, bored with my fat arse and my thighs that rub together at the top and my back fat and my beefy shoulders. And if having two children has taught me anything, it’s that if you want something, you have to get it your fucking self. I can’t just sit around with my fingers crossed eating custard creams hoping that the weight will fall off by itself because it won’t. Not at my age.

When you are young and single there is a vague sense that you are the star in the movie that is your life. There is the sense that when you find yourself in a dramatic situation that some dramatic solution will present itself. A handsome man will appear with an umbrella, a handsome man will pay your taxi fare, a handsome man will fix your broken down car. You get the idea.

This feeling can linger on in the early days with your first baby, as you find yourself stuggling with a buggy and a screaming infant, who then vomits and then your trousers fall down or whatever and you can find yourself in a glorious maelstrom of self-pity and sort of feel “look at me! It’s like in a movie and I am a hopeless new mother!!”

Then you realise, quite soon, that nobody is coming to rescue you. No-one is coming to help. It’s just you. And very quickly getting into scrapes with your child or really scrapes of any sort ceases to be funny.

I realised this one day when I didn’t put the brakes on the buggy properly, (Maclaren buggy brakes are bizarrely wobbly and shitty and hard to apply properly), and it rolled down some steps with Kitty in it. Fuck it was so awful. I have never forgiven myself. I squirm around in actual physical distress when I recall it.

Kitty was just screaming and screaming with blood in her mouth and I couldn’t get the stupid buggy harness off and the buggy was squashing Kitty and not one person came to help. I mean, I’m not surprised they didn’t – a screaming kid on our street is nothing new. But it was at that moment that I realised that this is it, now – this is real, now: so don’t fuck it up.

And it brought back to me powerfully that line in The Secret Garden when Mary Lennox is alone in her house in India because everyone else has died of cholera and two British civil servants come to send her back to England. “Why does nobody come?” shrieks Mary. “There’s nobody left to come,” says one of the men.

So if you want something done – if you want to be thin, if you want to be successful, if you want your kids to say please and thank you, you have to do it yourself. This is why women with children can, if they’re not careful, end up being really quite bossy, because there is a strong sense in their lives that if they don’t do it, no-one else will.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes leftover pork.

The thing about a fatty piece of pork, like a pork belly (the same applies to bacon) is that to get the best results you have to cook it slowly – this makes the fat render and then crisp up.

So with some leftover pork belly what you do is cut it up into small squares – about 2cm by 2cm if you want me to be exact about it, and then let it all sit in a dry frying pan over a low to moderate heat for about 30 mins. The fat will melt and crisp up the pork.

If you would like your crispy pork also spicy, then add in a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes, some finely-chopped spring onions, some chopped garlic maybe? A fine grating of ginger? A sprinkling of Chinese five spice? Any or all of these things would be simply capital.

Serve with a salad. No sandwiches allowed.

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