Sourdough Saga: Episode 4 – cheese and sun dried tomato bread

After the gratifying – if unexpected! – success of my first sourdough loaf, I couldn’t wait to do it all again as soon as possible.  The first loaf didn’t last very long, either, and certainly didn’t get a chance to go stale!  So the next free day I had was dedicated to another baking day.  I used broadly the same technique as for my first loaf (see ‘Sourdough Saga: Episode 3‘ for details) but with double quantities, and a downward adjustment to the salt content (10g in total in a two loaf batch).

Second sourdough bake

There were a couple of new things – first, the loaf shape.  I wanted longer, narrower loaves, instead of the round I baked the first time.  I’d love a full set of lovely baker’s bannetons, but they’re expensive and I’ve got nowhere to store them, so I improvised with a couple of long thin serving dishes I was given for Christmas last year by a friend, lined once again with a clean tea towel dusted generously with rye flour.

Dish used for provingIt’s not quite the right shape, as you can see, and tilts up at the tips rather, but it allowed the final proving to produce a loaf of approximately the size and shape I was after.  The ridge on the inside of the dish does leave an imprint on the loaf, but it’s all character!

I had a generous handful of grated cheddar cheese and some sun-dried tomatoes left over from the previous day, so decided to make one of my loaves a cheese and tomato bread.  I incorporated the extra ingredients during the final kneading, sprinkled across the surface when it was flattened out, and then folded into the dough during the shaping of the loaf.

Sliced cheese and tomato sourdough loaf

I think the cheese and tomato make a great addition to this sourdough. Something about the cheese flavour mutes the lactic sour note quite noticeably, making this a sourdough loaf that might go down better with people who aren’t that keen on the distinctive ‘sourdough’ flavour. The chopped sun dried tomatoes add a lovely sweet herby note (they were stored in herb oil).

Texture-wise this loaf seemed to prove slightly less well than it’s unmodified brother, with a slightly denser texture and smaller holes.  I’m not sure if this is the result of the extra oil / fats incorporated with the additions, or whether it has more to do with the difficulty I had keeping my oven up to temperature when baking two loaves together.  On the salt question – I don’t notice a difference from the further reduction, and it’s likely I’ll reduce the salt again next time I bake a loaf.  All in all, this is a great loaf and one I’ll definitely make again in the future!

Read all the posts in the Sourdough Saga >>

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Cooking with James Martin – a little taste of the treats on offer!

Our day at Food at 52  with James Martin was in two halves.  Our participation was called for in the morning as we were pressed into service as a rag-tag team of commis chefs in the preparation of the first three dishes – which made up our menu for lunch.  James guided and instructed and was only occasionally scathing of our efforts!

In the afternoon, already replete with amazing food, and enjoying a nice drop (or two!) of Sauvignon Blanc, we got to sit back and relax as James prepared a further six dishes while we watched, asked questions, and then struggled despite our already full bellies to taste all his wonderful creations.

Here’s a quick whizz through the wonderful dishes we tasted – hopefully I’ll be able to post some recipes in due course!

Lunch Menu

Thai crab risottoThai crab risotto – This was the first dish we tasted and was definitely one of the stand-out recipes of the day for me.  It has amazing complex & multi-layered flavours in exquisite balance, and despite how much is ‘going on’ in this dish somehow manages to taste crisp and clean and not at all muddled.  James described this as his ‘signature dish’ and I can completely see why – it knocks every risotto I’ve ever tasted into a cocked hat!

Smoked haddock rarebitSmoked haddock rarebit with confit tomatoes – An unusual twist on a Welsh rarebit, with the cheese-based layer built on top of a lovely naturally smoked haddock fillet.  Served with a confit tomato salad (which will definitely be making it into my culinary repertoire) it’s a lovely dish for an English summer’s day, balancing the clean crisp flavours of the tomatoes with the comforting warmth of smoked fish and grilled cheese.

Hot chocolate mousseWarm chocolate mouse with banana ice cream & custard – The freshly made ‘last minute’ banana ice cream is actually the star of this dish for me.  It’s packed with really distinct flavours and heaps of texture.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not that much of a chocoholic – the chocolate pudding is tasty, and gooey in the middle, but very similar to things I’ve had before.  The custard involved a lot of hard work, and is clearly something I should master, but I’m not that much of a custard fan and I’m not convinced it adds that much when you already have the gorgeous banana ice cream.

Demonstration Dishes

Pea and watercress soupPea and watercress soup served with a deep-fried egg – This soup is an amazing colour (no Photoshop trickery here!) and has a lovely fresh pea flavour.  I’ll certainly be playing with this soup recipe at home, though I have to admit to being a bit mystified by the soft boiled egg crumbed and deep-fried and served in the centre in a style – I’m afraid – a bit reminiscent of the famous Australian ‘meat pie floater’! It’s a dramatic ‘cheffy’ touch to finish the dish but I’m not entirely convinced it adds anything that a poached egg wouldn’t in terms of flavour (in fact I suspect I’d prefer the latter) and the crispy texture it imparts is duplicated in the streaky bacon garnish.  Think ham and egg with peas, but all taken apart and put back together again!

Pea and watercress soupLamb with chilli pickle – This is a great little dish, James described it as ‘bar food’ and it would be ideal for nibbles with drinks, but also makes a lovely light lunch or supper dish if you’re looking to impress someone!  Great fresh flavours with a lovely crisp tang from the freshly prepared pickled vegetables, and the lovely tender pink lamb loin is the perfect counterpoint.

Cod cheeks with tartar sauceVodka-and-tonic battered cod cheeks with tartare sauce – The batter was an unusual concoction, with the cocktail-cupboard ingredients and made ‘live’ with yeast, quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  It fries up lovely and crisp and keeps the cod cheeks gorgeous and moist.  The freshly made tartare sauce is the first such I’ve ever actually liked!  I don’t batter and deep-fry much, but it looks like a  great party-piece!  I can imagine diving into a big bowl of this with a load of friends around a table, perhaps with some slightly spiced potato wedges.

Seared tuna with 'Japanese slaw'Seared tuna in spiced apricot marinade with ‘Japanese slaw’ – A beautiful dish to look at on the plate with some lovely flavours – there’s an almost North African vibe with the fruit & spice flavours.  By this stage in the tasting I was really struggling to eat another bite, but was very glad I did.  We don’t often cook fresh tuna at home but I will certainly adapt this marinade next time we do, as it just lifts that slightly bland character it can have while letting the flavour still shine through.

And now for some desert!  We now felt so full we could pop…

Strawberry cheesecakeStrawberry vanilla cheesecake – James introduced us to this dish, which is one that he developed for Thomas Cook‘s refreshed airline menu.  This is a wonderful quick simple & impressive little desert which you can imagine being able to adapt almost infinitely with different fruits in season and flavours in the cheesecake mix & biscuit crumb.  I particularly liked that this wasn’t an over-sweet dish, letting the flavours of the fresh English strawberries and the slightly acid-note from the cheese shine through.  It isn’t at all cloying and has an almost palate-cleansing quality, nice and fresh – just the thing when you’d eaten quite as much as we had!  All in all a great little dish and definitely another one for the repertoire!

Cheat's GateauxLast, but quite definitely not least, James’ rather marvellously named Bullshit (or “Cheat’s”, for polite company!) Gateaux seems quite the work of patissier’s art.  Just look at it!  In fact it’s startlingly simple – well, for the most part! There’s a story behind this cake – and the name – which I hope to share with you soon..!

For the time being here’s a little snapshot of the man himself doing some of his famous sugar-craft!

Sugar spinning

I hope this has really whetted your appetite for more details of these dishes – writing about them and going through the photos has certainly made me hungry!  I can safely say it’s the most amazing day’s foodie indulgence I’ve enjoyed in a very long time.  I can’t wait to experiment some more with the recipes and let you know how I got on!

Read more from the Country Skills blog >>

Cooking with James Martin – some initial thoughts & photos!

The big day was today – I’m finally back home from London (seriously, Londoners, how do you survive the Tube these days?!) exhausted but seriously excited about today’s cullinary adventure!  The competition winners met up with famous chef James Martin at the ‘Food at 52‘ cookery school in Clerkenwell, and he spent the day sharing with us some of the tricks of his trade and feeding us until we nearly popped (while he himself seemed to survive on a diet of Diet Coke and Red Bull!).  The whole event was thanks to Thomas Cook, with whom we heard James had been collaborating on aeroplane catering.

James Martin

There are recipes and tips to share with you, and we’ll get to those in due course (probably once I’ve re-cooked at least some of the recipes to iron out quantities etc!) but I just wanted to share a few initial ‘teaser’ photos featuring some of the marvellous ingredients we got to ‘play’ with today.

Brown crab  Ingredients  More ingredients

It’s also been a great opportunity to meet other keen cooks and bloggers, and I hope some fun things will come of that in the future, too!

Look forward to more blogging on the subject once I’ve had a good night’s sleep (perhaps several!) and caught up on myself a little!

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Exciting news – and a bit of a tease!

A little while ago, I entered a recipe competition with a variation on my jerk marinade, thinking ‘here goes nothing!’.  Last weekend, I received an email – I nearly deleted the winning notification – I mean, what else do you do with emails which start ‘CONGRATULATIONS!’ and go on to tell you you’ve won something??

1st Prize!

I was a bit gobsmacked, truth be told.  I’m the sort of person who never wins anything – not even a colouring competition when I was a kid!  In fact, the only thing I’ve ever won was a Blue Peter Badge (those of you outside the UK will have to look that one up!).

So, one day next week, I get to travel to a secret London location and spend the day enjoying a masterclass with one of my favourite celebrity chefs!  How cool is that??

I’m so excited about this (does it make me a prize-winning food writer, I wonder?) and can’t wait to share all the details & photos with you all after the event!

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Sourdough Saga: Episode 3 – good things come to those who wait!

A week ago, and with a certain amount of frustration, I stashed a very promising looking sourdough starter in the refrigerator, knowing I didn’t have a plausible baking day for another seven days.  Despite having lots going on, those seven days have been torture, in their way.  I’ve not looked forward to a day off quite so much for a very long time!

Sourdough - success at last!

On Tuesday morning, in preparation for today’s much longed-for baking day, I ‘rescued’ my jar of starter from the fridge.  It had ‘fallen’ back from it’s bubbly heights and seemed more like a pot of goo than a bubbly ferment.  But I’d been expecting this.  I gave it a couple of teaspoons of fresh flour just for a small snack, something to munch on while it warmed back up to room temperature, and went to work.  Some promising bubbles greeted me on my return, so Tuesday night it got a proper feeding.  This had the expected – but gratifying! – result of a decent doubling in size by Wednesday evening.  Pleased that the starter seemed nice and active, I constructed my ‘overnight sponge’ on Wednesday night.

The recipe for my first sourdough loaf is a slightly modified version of one of the sourdoughs in ‘River Cottage Handbook No.3 – Bread’ by Daniel Stevens (ISBN 978-0-7475-9533-5) which has been staring at me accusingly from between it’s very beautiful covers since it first moved onto my kitchen book-shelf a couple of years ago.

My sponge consisted of the following parts –

  • A ladle-full of my (wholemeal) starter
  • 325ml of warm water (a mix of cold tap water and some hot from the kettle)
  • 250g of locally stoneground strong white bread flour

Overnight sponge, in the morningThese are mixed by hand in the bowl, covered loosely with cling film, and left to ferment overnight.  This morning, after I couldn’t bear to stay in bed any longer out of curiosity for how my bread was going, I was met with this – a lovely bubbly bowl of promising things!

I put the coffee machine on for my essential morning brew.  So distracted was I by my marvellous bubbly sponge, the jug was half-way full of pale brown water before I realised I’d forgotten to add any ground coffee!

The sponge, when I stirred it and then poured it off into a second bowl, was an amazing ‘stringy’ consistency, more like melted cheese than anything I’ve encountered in bread-making before – I assume in some way from the alchemy of the microorganisms within it.

To the sponge, then, I added –

  • A further 300g of strong white bread flour
  • 7g of salt [Edit, 15/7/2012 – I now use about half this amount of salt, with no ill effect]
  • A ‘glug’ of olive oil

Dough in the mixerAfter mixing the sponge, flour and salt roughly by hand, I put the lot into my (rather lightweight!) stand mixer, dough hooks fitted, and started it going.  It certainly gave the dough (and itself!) a heck of a work-out.  After a couple of minutes I added a good glug of olive oil and left it to work for about ten minutes.  I was told to expect quite a wet dough and certainly this was tricky to handle, sticky and rather ill-manered!  I don’t have a dough scraper so I was rather grateful for the mechanical assistance – though I’m not sure how many batches of sourdough my stand mixer has in it, it seemed to find it quite an effort!

Dough, before first riseAfter kneading, I formed it into a rough round and oiled the bowl before setting the dough in it to rest for the first time.  Before this first resting period it looks like this, and after a couple of hours, to be honest, it looked just the same, if possibly *slightly* bigger in the bowl.

Formed into a roundFlour your surface, and then turn out the bowl of dough – squash it out into a rough rectangle with your fingers, and then ‘knead’ it gently back into a tight round before returning it to the oiled bowl for another hour or so. Put the bowl somewhere warm, but not hot – on a cool day, the oven with the light (but no heat!) on makes a good resting environment.  You’re going to repeat this process of resting, flattening and re-forming your ball a couple of times during the day.

Dough, flattened with fingertips for final timeA couple of hours before my planned baking time, I turned the dough out for the last time.  It’s springier, silkier and lighter, with some noticeable bubbles now when you handle it. Form it into a round again but this time, rather than returning it to an oiled bowl, it would rather be in a proving basket.

In the ad-hoc 'proving basket'I don’t have one of those, so I used a mixing bowl lined with a clean tea-towel which I’d dusted generously with rye flour.  I had very little faith that this was going to result in anything other than a disappointing sticky mess when the dough adhered to the cloth, but I’m a good girl and do as I’m told. Covered loosely with a piece of cling film, I left this patiently for another three hours.

I’d read all sorts of advice about the critical baking process – involving dutch ovens (I don’t own one), squirty-bottles of water (likewise!) for steam creation, and even things that look a bit like chicken bricks to approximate a traditional wood-fired oven.  I went with what I actually had – a round black stoneware baking dish for the bread, and a stainless steel roaster to hold some water in the bottom of the oven.  I heated it up to it’s maximum temperature (230C on the dial – 20 below what was recommended) and pre-heated the stoneware dish.  Once it was all up to temperature, and after adding a kettle-full of boiling water to the roaster in the bottom of the oven, I tried to gently turn out the floured dough onto the baking dish.  It seemed like a bit of a disaster, to be honest – ending up rather crumpled and misshapen.  I cut a cross-hatched pattern crudely into the top, and reassuring myself it was all about the flavour, bundled it back into the blasting hot oven.

I couldn’t tear myself away from it, and ended up sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor peering through the oven door as a miracle started to happen.  First the crumpled side seemed to stretch itself back into shape, and then, I’ll be damned if it didn’t start to rise!  Ten minutes into baking and I turned the oven down to 190.  The amazing rising act continued – first, it stretched its way languorously into the slashes, stretching them nicely across the surface.  And then, it started to climb vertically upwards, lifting its edges off the baking tray.  I’ve never seen a loaf perform an act like it – I can only assume it’s the result of the clever changes to the gluten that result from the extended rising and proving time.  It was like something out of the Incredible Hulk.

Out of the oven - at last!After 40 minutes the crust was a lovely warm mid-brown colour, but the bottom was still a bit soggy.  I took it off the baking dish and returned it to the oven upside down for another 10 minutes.  Hubby came home to find me stood expectantly in the kitchen.  After that, I couldn’t wait any longer, and pulled it out of the oven.  The smell of baking bread that filled the kitchen – and the house – was quite amazing.

An hour later, we slice and sample it.  I genuinely wasn’t expecting anything this good from my first effort.  There are some lovely big holes in the dough, the crust is amazingly crisp but very thin – and retains a remarkable elasticity.

Sliced sourdough loaf

The texture of the bread is springy and extremely satisfying.  There is a definite, recognisable, but not overwhelming ‘sourdough’ flavour.  I *adore* it.  The whole process – from starting the sponge to eating the loaf – took about 24 hours, and I don’t regret one of them.  The actual ‘working’ time today was about an hour and a half, and left plenty of time for popping to the shops, taking the dog for a walk, and so on.

The bar for ‘good bread’ has just shot skywards in our household, and I suspect things may never be quite the same again.

Read all the posts in the Sourdough Saga >>

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Sourdough Saga: Episode 2 – keep calm and carry on?

So sourdough-1 went in the bin, and after a thorough clean out, sourdough-2 began…

Split starterI started initially with rye flour again, but used bottled water this time.  My initial batter was far too thin (I started with equal volumes of flour and water rather than equal weights – not quite sure what I was thinking really!), on day 2 when I got the initial bacterial bubble-up the whole thing split like curdled milk.  Thanks to some more supportive advice from twitter, I didn’t panic.  Keep calm and carry on, so they say.  Too much water, not enough flour, feed and perhaps move somewhere slightly cooler.  Done.

Do all starters get talked to this much?  Never has an inanimate object of mine been so cajoled & pleaded with.  I speak to it softly, encourage its efforts, and wish it goodnight and good morning.  My husband wonders if I’m losing my marbles… if only just a little bit!

I got my hands on some locally stoneground wholemeal flour, so I switched to this for feedings. As the batter was still on the thin side, I didn’t pause for doubling at day 3, but carried on with daily feeding.  Because the material on the sides of the jar was the first to grow mould last time, I made a habit of swilling out the jar to clean the sides at each feeding. The smell was good (quite yeasty and sourdoughy!) but only a few scant bubbles were rising to the surface.

More great advice came flooding in after I published Episode 1 of the Sourdough Saga – including the recommendation not to cover the starter.   Perhaps this was where I was going wrong, even with the lid lightly resting on the top of the jar, was I  suffocating my starter by depriving it of air?  A week after starting and not much was happening, so this seemed a theory worth pursuing.  Discarding the lid from the jar, I strapped a little kitchen-towel bonnet over the starter jar with a rubber band.  Things did start to look a bit more active on the surface of the starter at around that time.  Had I got something right at last?

The next morning dawned to apparent disaster.  Literally overnight, the whole top of my starter had bloomed with creamy-coloured velvety mould!  I was so upset I didn’t even think to photograph it.  More desperate scratching through the deeper sourdough-focused recesses of the internets ensued.  Someone promised that even really neglected starters, all moulded over, could be resuscitated – but since mine had never yet really come to life, could it work for me?  Had I perhaps caused this mouldy horror by leaving my starter uncovered for the surface to dry out?

Out of sheer bloody-mindedness, and muttering something about ‘not giving up now’ under my breath, I scratched the furry stuff from the surface of my starter as well as I could.  What was left, I mixed with more flour and water (gently warmed, this time) and tipped back into the jar.  The starter had developed a ‘winey’ smell I wasn’t at all sure I liked.  I got rid of its bonnet, reverting to the loose glass lid, turned my back on it, and leaving it without even my usual gentle words of encouragement, went out for the day, expecting to find more mould & disaster on my return.

Bubbled up and at least doubled in size

Six hours later, you might have knocked me down with a feather.  The damned thing had bubbled up to very nearly twice the size I’d left it, and was a sponge of small even holes visible through the sides of the jar.  I nearly wept.  Instead, I swore, colourfully.  Not a trace of fuzzy mould was visible.  In fact, a better impression of all the ‘happy, thriving starters’ whose photos I’d been coveting on other, more successful blogs, I couldn’t imagine.

I tried to share with my lovely husband quite what an exciting turn of events this was.  He seemed pleased for me, also somewhat (indulgently) nonplussed.

I left it overnight, and fed it again in the morning.  Coming home from work tonight, I found it doubled again.  I can’t quite believe it.  It looks so good, but I can’t convince myself there isn’t still something wrong with it now?  I’ve fed it again this evening, getting the volume up so there’s enough to harvest for a loaf or two.  Can I just use it, soon?  What, if anything, should I be worrying about now??  It looks great, and smells great, it grows like a weed, does that mean it *is* great?  Is there any way of telling?

This whole process has been the most insane and unexpected emotional roller-coaster ride.  Is this just all sent to make me *really grateful* for my new daily bread??  More importantly, my wise blog friends, can I make a mostly-white loaf from a wholemeal starter, or should I stick to matching flour for now?  So many questions – so much to discover!

What have I learnt, that might help others trying to navigate the gloomy labyrinth of sourdough starter art and science?  Not much, to be honest!  Only that there doesn’t seem to be a one-size-fits all set of instructions.  In the end, what seemed to work for me – despite the odd speed-bump on the road! –  was nice fresh stoneground wholemeal flour, slightly warmed bottled water, and a willingness to just keep discarding and feeding day after day until things eventually came together.  My starter hadn’t read the timetable, and probably neither has anyone else’s!

Finally, I’d like to offer a huge vote of thanks to everyone – both on wordpress and on twitter –  who’s offered me guidance and support on my sourdough journey so far – I would never have guessed there were so many great sourdough bakers out there, so generous with their time, knowledge, and advice!

Next – Sourdough Saga: Episode 3 – good things come to those who wait!

Read all the posts in the Sourdough Saga >>

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Signs of Summer – hedgerow posy

It’s great to see the field margins and roadsides crowded with flowers at this time of year, isn’t it?  I couldn’t resist, and picked a small posy from our paddock – red clover, buttercups and grasses.  It looks a treat on my window sill.

Hedgerow posy

Go and pick one of your own – it’s a little bit of summer, for you to enjoy indoors!  Beautiful, and best of all, completely free!

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Basic Butchery – how to butcher & portion a pork belly

Pork belly is such a wonderful and versatile cut, and so under-rated here in the UK.  Most of my bacon making is with belly, so we get through quite a lot of it.  As a result I tend to buy it most-of-a-belly at a time!  The process of butchering it to remove the ribs and prepare it for curing or roasting is quite simple, and worth learning, since it means you’ll end up with precisely the piece of meat you want for the task at hand, and a couple of little bonus items, too!

Large piece of pork belly

Your butcher will probably offer to prepare your belly for you, removing the ribs and trimming it to your preference, but you never quite seem to get exactly what you were after, somehow!  Doing the job yourself means you get exactly what you want.  This is my starting point – just under 2kg piece of pork belly .

Peel away the inner layer of fatStart by removing the layer of fat on the inside of the belly piece, if there’s one there.  You shouldn’t need your knife for this, it should just pull away if you work gently beneath it with your fingers, leaving a clean muscle surface beneath.  Once you’ve removed it, set it to one side (I usually keep an ‘offcuts’ plate or bowl handy when I’m portioning or butchering meats).  This is effectively pork suet.

Belly portion with fat removedNow you can get a better look at the anatomy of your piece of meat.  As it’s laid out in the photo here, the ribs are on the left, you can see the flap of diaphragm meat lying above them.  On the right side of the belly is a band of smooth muscle.  The ends of the ribs lie almost exactly where the visible edge of this muscle joins the diaphragm.

Cut beneath ribsTake a long, thin bladed, sharp knife and first cut beneath the ribs, as close as possible to them to reduce wastage.  The piece has been rotated 180 degrees from where it was in the previous photograph so that the ribs are now bottom right.  You should be able to feel roughly where the ribs end, so extend your cut beneath them as close as possible to this level.

Finding the ends of the ribsNow gently slice beneath the strap-like muscle we identified earlier, where it lies over the ends of the ribs, and peel it back,  You’ll find the ends of the ribs and the strips of cartilage which link them together.  Gently slice around these and then back underneath. By lifting the rib section it should now be quite easy to join up with the cut beneath and remove this as a block.

Rack of ribs, as removedEither put the rack of ribs to one side, or cut them up into individual ribs at this stage.  This couldn’t be simpler – just feel for the gap between each pair of ribs and slice down the centre parallel to them, your knife, if it’s nice and sharp, should cut straight through the connecting cartilage.

Ribs, divided up.You can trim away any strips of cartilage that area easy to identify – you can see this top left.  That bit is genuinely wastage, incidentally, so chuck it away if you want!  Bag your butchered ribs up, label them, and freeze them for another day (they’re great done on the BBQ with a jerk marinade!).

Pork belly with ribs removed

Now let’s turn our attention back to the pork belly itself.

You can really see now that mine is anything but rectangular! It’s actually sitting ‘upside down’ in terms of how it was on the pig – the top as we look at that photo is the part closest to the middle of the pig’s body, the rib side is towards the back.  As we get closer to the abdominal midline, the proportion of fat to muscle increases, so I trimmed the piece to rectangular, discarding the part which is most top-left in this photograph.

Pork belly, trimmedBecause I’m planning to prepare the belly as streaky bacon, this will give me more manageable, even chunks.  You can see the effect of the trimming in this photograph – the piece has been rotated again so the rib-side is now away from us.  Add your trimmings to the ‘offcuts’ bowl.

Belly pieces, divided upNow simply divide up your belly as you like.  Mine weighed almost exactly 1.6kg at this point, so I divided it evenly into four ~400g pieces.   A large piece like this would be fantastic roasted slowly whole, too, perhaps with chinese spices, for a special meal for a big gathering!  Roast pork belly has the *best* crackling.

Bag your ribs and your offcuts – these will make fantastic quite fatty minced pork for adding to any minced-meat dish that requires extra juiciness and succulence, or for sausages.  Then sit back and admire your work.

Fully-butchered pork belly

My belly portions were for curing, so I prepared a maple syrup cure made up of 100g of supracure and 90g of pure maple syrup, applied about half to all the bellies, and then bagged them together in the fridge. (More discussion of the bacon-in-a-bag ‘dry’ cure method can be found here.)

Belly pieces with maple syrup cureI’ll apply the second half after 48 hours and re-arrange the bellies so they’re skin-side together for the second half of the curing process.  The total curing time would normally be 5 days for belly pork, but these pieces are thicker than usual, so I may decide to let them go a day longer, depending on the texture and appearance at the 5 day mark.  It would be great to get some maple smoke into some of them – but that’ll depend on the weather.  I’ll keep you posted!

Read more DIY Cold Smoker & Home-Curing posts >>

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Signs of Summer – if you can believe it!

No one in the UK (or probably elsewhere!) can have missed the fact that today marks the peak of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Dear Queen Lizzie.  It’s June!  The British weather is a vexatious, tricky beast at the best of times (why else would we all spend so much time talking about it?), and of course it’s done its thing and provided the cold grey drizzle to put the lie to the gorgeous hot sunny spell we were enjoying not a week ago.  But despite all of this (10 degrees centigrade!  In June! I ask you?) and the cheerful, if slightly damp collection of people crowded into the village hall this lunchtime for beer, bunting, and a cracking hog roast, I know summer’s here.  How?

Elderflower buds, just breaking

That’s how!  The elderflowers are opening!

Elderflowers in the hedgerowSome of you will have some sense of how exciting this is, perhaps.  The scent of them is just so glorious, and the excitement starts to build towards the elderflower cordial and champagne brewing that the next few weeks will hopefully bring!

Keep your eyes open for these now, and look forward to a couple of great recipes over the next few weeks!  In the meantime, I hope the bad-weather plans in place have allowed everyone with jubilee parties to get a bit of fun, despite the grotty conditions!

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