Pork Belly with Fennel Seeds and Cider Gravy

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A few weeks ago I went to Exeter Food Festival. I skipped lunch in order to fit in about 5 meals’ worth of free samples from all the food stands – even visiting some stalls twice and getting an irritable ‘Hello AGAIN’.  After I’d had my fill of chutney on tiny bits of bread, I tried to find the beer tent and ended up inadvertently wandering into a cookery demonstration.

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The demonstration was by Tom Cull of Tom’s Pies (www.toms-pies.co.uk). One of the main motivations for me visiting the festival was to have one of these pies – I had a lamb, chickpea and chorizo one last year that’s been on my mind ever since.

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But instead of giving away the recipe for this pie (understandable, but disappointing), Tom was cooking pork belly. As chefs love to tell you, pork belly is apparently a very underrated cut of meat. But it seems to be popping up everywhere these days- and every time I’ve had it it’s been delicious. There was a ‘here’s one I made earlier’ moment at the end of the demonstration, and Tom cut up the pork belly for the people in the audience who could fight their way to the front of the mob first.

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In this recipe, the pork is rubbed with a mixture of fennel seeds, mustard and about a gazillion other things, then perched on top of some vegetables and slow cooked. This gives a lovely crackly skin and very tender meat- and you’re left with dark sticky goo underneath that forms the base of the intense cider gravy.

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Serves 4

(adapted from the recipe by Tom Cull – Dartmoor Kitchen)

A piece of pork belly, about 30cm long, ribs removed

4 carrots, chopped

1 onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, skin left on

3 bramley apples

3 tbsp light brown sugar

500ml dry cider

500ml chicken stock

For the rub:

2 tbsp fennel seeds

1 lemon, zest and juice

4 garlic cloves

1 onion

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

1 tbsp capers, rinsed

1 tsp Dijon mustard

4 tbsp cider vinegar

3 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 180 C. Start by making the rub for the pork. In a dry pan, toast the fennel seeds over a low heat until just starting to release a scent. Blend all the ingredients for the rub into a coarse paste using a food processor/blender. Take the pork belly and turn it flesh side up. Make some scores in the flesh no more than 1cm deep, and rub the paste all over the flesh (but not over the skin side or it’ll burn). Place the onion, carrots and garlic in a baking tray, and sit the pork belly flesh side down on top of the vegetables. Lightly rub the scored skin with some oil and sprinkle a generous pinch of salt on top. Place the pork in the oven for 30 minutes. Then turn the heat down to 130 C, pour in the cider and chicken stock and cook until tender – this will take approximately 3-4 hours.

When the pork is almost done, make the apple sauce. Peel and core the apples, then cut them into cubes. Place in a pan with the sugar and a splash of water. Cook gently for 10 minutes or so, until the apples have broken down slightly. When the pork is ready, place on a warm tray along with the onions and carrots, then sieve the juices from the roasting tin. Skim any fat from the top of the gravy. Serve the pork belly cut into chunks, with the gravy drizzled over and the apple sauce on the side. Good with some steamed green veg, or you can add boiled potatoes for a more substantial meal.

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