Lechon – fantastic porky goodness

Warning – This post is not diet-friendly.  Not at all.  Even a little bit.  Unless the diet your on is one where you’re actively looking to gain weight.  In which case, bring it!


Sometimes, running in the morning feels like incredibly hard work.  I mean *incredibly* hard work.  This morning was one of those mornings.  And I blame my body’s apathy entirely on Lechon.

I thought I’d come across the best ways to slow cook a lump of pig already.  Pibil, carnitas, what could beat those 2?  And then along comes Lechon.

For those of you who didn’t watch Mary Berry’s Easter Feast (watch for it on the BBC iPlayer, it’s bound to come back), Lechon is a Filipino pork dish that can be cooked using a cut as small as a large slab of belly or scaled right up to the whole hog.  It’s prepared for Easter and served to the whole family.

World-record breaking Lechon
Good, but what’s everyone else having.

Long story short, it’s a slab of pork, skin on, slow-roasted until the skin is crackling and the pork is moist and gorgeous.  And if you do it with belly pork from the butchers, this one isn’t going to break the bank.

There are as many recipes for Lechon as there are families in the region, it seems, so while mine won’t be 100% authentic, it’s a good approximation.  We had a slab of belly pork roughly 60cm long by 30 wide (2 feet by 1 foot in old money).  Adjust ingredient quantities accordingly.

Phase 1 – Brining

You will need…

  • Pork belly, skin on.  It’s up to you whether you have the skin scored or not.  On the program, it wasn’t scored, in the pictures and recipes I’ve found it wasn’t scored.  Our butcher scored ours on autopilot and we ended up with the MOST AMAZING CRACKLING EVER at the end.  YMMV.
  • Salt.  Loads of it.
  • Bay leaves
  • Black pepper
  • Garlic
  • Lemongrass, 2 stalks, bashed
  • Water

Into a couple or 3 litres of water – more if you’ve got a bigger slab of meat – mix the salt until it’s dissolved and then add all the rest of the ingredients.  Brine is seriously salty stuff, so if it tastes a bit insipid, add more salt.

Leave the meat submerged in this overnight.  The next morning, dry the meat, discard the brine and prepare for…

Phase 2 – The Cooking

Alrighty.  Oven to 130°C, quick spin around the ingredients, Clive, then back to me.

  • 6 lemongrass stalks, pounded with a rolling pin and split lengthways with a sharp knife.
  • 2 onions, chopped in half then thinly sliced (or a bunch of spring onions)
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Sea salt
  • Oil
  • String

Lay the meat skin-side down and arrange the lemongrass, (spring) onions and garlic along the centre.  You’re going to roll this up, so these need to be in the middle.

Several recipes I found include a “milking” step at this point, where the skin is painted with milk and left for an hour for it to soak in.  We didn’t do this, largely because we wanted it in the oven and hadn’t banked on needing another hour.

Roll it up, tie it off with the string – one loop and knot every 3 inches or so – then oil it and rub in the salt.

Place on a roasting tin, cover with foil and stick it in the middle of the oven for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, remove the foil and give it another 4 hours.

Once all that is done, you’re ready for…

Phase 3 – The Eating

And if you need my help with this stage, I’m more than happy to oblige.

We served ours with some plain white rice, a tomato and onion salsa and some home-made chutney, all wrapped up in a, well, wrap.

And it was all going so well until about 10pm when we fancied a snack watching Maigret and stuffed ourselves with a large sandwich – Lechon, mayo and the chutney you first thought of.

24 hours later and I’m still full.

I may never eat again.

Is that the leftovers?  Pass the chutney.

#RecipeShed – Aunty Molly’s Ginger Biscuits

Keith’s theme for the week, across at the Recipe Shed, is Hand-Me-Down recipes.  Those recipes that have been in the family for generations and generations, handed down in dog-eared recipe books, fought over in the will, smuggled out by taking photographs of grandma’s cook book while the other children distract her, that sort of thing.

I got nothing.  I don’t remember anything of my mum’s mum’s cooking – I assume some of what my mum cooked for me and my brothers over the years must’ve come from there – and the less said about my dad’s mum’s cooking, the better! (“No, grandma.  It’s the knives.  They’re just very blunt.”  It’s not that your steak would double as shoe leather or something to mend a puncture with at all.)

Well, that’s not quite true.  Mum’s recipe for hash is a good one – perfect for those of you with slow cookers or an AGA/Raeburn/insert equivalent make here.  Chuck everything in a big Le Creuset pan, bang on the lid, stick it in the slow oven when you head out for work, get it out when you get home.  Feeds a very large hungry family.  Corned beef works well, so does heart.  That reminds me.  Once defrosted a pair of hearts in the microwave of the house I was sharing in Kent.  Our resident vegetarian almost died!  Not quite as bad as finding the brace of pheasants hung on the back of the kitchen door, but almost.

Anyway, long story short.  I have this.  Aunty Molly’s Ginger Biscuits.  Aunty Molly was one of those not-relatives-but-still-an-aunt types.  Used to live next door to us in Ripon.  These are fast, simple, cheap and the kids love making them.  They’re a great rainy-day recipe.  They don’t hold shapes very well, so they’re not good to use with complicated cutters (no Gruffalo biscuits here, I’m afraid).

You will need…

  • 8oz self raising flour
  • 4 oz sugar
  • 4 oz butter or marge
  • 1 tbs golden syrup
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tbs hot water
Now for the complicated bit – and the reason why the kids like making them.
  1. Mix everything together in a bowl
  2. Grab chunks about the size of a wallnut and shape into balls
  3. Space out on a baking tray
  4. Flatten slightly (make a fist and push down gently)
  5. Bake at 160C for about 20 minutes
Ta and might I add da.  Now the really tricky part is getting everything from step 1 through to step 3.  This is one of those recipes where the dough tastes as good raw as it does cooked.  We usually lose about 1/5th of the mix during step 2 to “quality control”.  You can make it more complicated, adding chunks of crystallized ginger or the preserved-in-sugar stuff but the basic mix is pretty hard to beat.
Now.  Given that it’s raining out there and I happen to know I’ve got plenty of ginger in the cupboard I might just go and whip up a batch.
And while your biscuits are cooking, head over to the Recipe Shed for more ideas.  There’s a rather fine boiled cake from The Kitchen Mechanic that I’m keen to try.

#RecipeShed – Keema Aloo (Mince curry with potatos)

Many years ago, my wife (then we were but boyfriend and girlfriend) took me on a trip to Bradford.  We went to the IMAX theatre and saw a couple of movies then went for a curry in what is, for me, the finest curry house in the land: The Kashmir.  You walk past the posh seating area at street level, round the corner onto a side street, down some stairs into the basement.  Formica tables.  Tin plates.  Very plain, very functional and always very busy for a very good reason:  The food is excellent.  We vowed to repeat the trip.

In there, on the next visit, I had my first keema curry.  Rather than lumps of meat, keema dishes are made from mince.  Whenever I get the chance, I go back there for a keema madras, usually tying it in with a visit to what was then the National Museum of Film, Photography and Television and is now a branch of the Science Museum.  Well worth a visit if you get the chance.  2 Daleks, Morph, the Wombles and much, much more.

Anyway.  Fast forward a few years and I’m on a cookery course.  What do we want to cook next week?  I suggest a keema dish, the teacher agrees. I’ve got to say, it’s a dish that starts out very unpromising in looks and then pulls it all out of the bag near the end.  Here you go.

Ingredients:

  • 1lb lean lamb mince (best if you can make it yourself by taking a good slab of shoulder and trimming away as much of the fat as possible).
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder (or paprika if you’re dialling down the heat)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic & ginger paste (equal quantities of garlic and ginger, blitz together in a food processor and add a little vegetable oil.  Keeps for ages so make it up in big batches. You’ll be amazed at how useful it is)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 black cardamom
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 4 green chillies, finely chopped (optional)
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • Large bunch fresh coriander, chopped

Method:

  1. In a large pan, put the mince, onions, salt, red chilli powder (or paprika), turmeric, cinnamon stick, black cardamom and a large glass of water.
  2. Bring to the boil.  Break up the mince with a wooden spoon to make sure there are no lumps.
  3. Put on the lid, simmer for half an hour.  Stir after 15 minutes.
  4. Remove the lid, allow the water to evaporate completely.
  5. Add the tomatoes and a half-ladle of vegetable oil.  Start to fry the mince, adding the chillies (if you’re  using them) and the garlic & ginger paste (for some reason my hands want to type “garlic & finger paste”.  Don’t use that.  That would be wrong).  Fry for 15-20 minutes.  Add a little water if it all starts to stick.
  6. Add the potatoes and keep frying gently for 10 minutes.
  7. Put on the lid, reduce heat to minimum and allow the potatoes to cook.  Usually another 10-20 minutes.
  8. Just before serving, sprinkle over the garam masala and the coriander, stir and remove from the heat.  Serve at once with fresh naans or chapatti.
Until you start the frying at step 5, this dish is plain ugly.  One thing I was told on the course I did:  If you’re cooking a meat curry, you want the onion to be invisible.  If you’re cooking a vegetable curry, cut it generous as you want to see it as an ingredient.  So, the finer you chop the onion, the better – I was given a couple of Kyocera ceramic knives for my birthday this year – I now know what finely chopped looks like.  I also know that if the knife is sharp enough you don’t know you’ve cut yourself until the blood is already staining the chopping board.  These knives show no mercy.  They are truly amazing things.
Now.  Head over to the Recipe Shed and see what amazing things others are doing with mince this week.  And if you know of any other good keema recipes, please send them my way.