I return to Leiths for the final term on Monday. It’s often a true observation that one does not realise how much they have learned, what they have absorbed or the relevance of it until dust settles. There were a few moans towards the end of the second term that we had not, perhaps, been taught as much as in the first term and, at the time, I would have perhaps agreed. The break of the holidays however, the space and time of being back to making my own food, showed me just how much we had learned. An unexpected fascination with the science of sauces has pervaded the last couple of weeks, I’ve found a pastry that loves me in the form of pate sucree, hand raising a pie is not a daunting challenge and nor is forming aspic (I’ll hold my breath on that one actually – we have aspic in the first week back!), my guesses at oven temperatures and shelf placement are no longer guesses, just automatic assertions, I can turn a damn carrot but perhaps I still can’t chop an onion, filo pastry remains my kryptonite and my presentation is still on par with a four years old’s art skills.
I became so much more absorbed in the wine and spirits lectures than I thought I will be. Vinnie was hideously embarrassed when I criticised the wine/food pairings our chosen wedding venue were suggesting. Retrospectively, I am too, but when that psuedo-sommelier mindset of someone that knows a little bit about something so feels entitled to give advice pushes through, it makes an awful impression. I’ve done a lot of butchery before, as far as a four day course up in Ipswich with M.E.A.T inc, so whilst I may not have learnt anything on the day the happy, jovial, informative and old-school Butchers came in to demonstrate, it was still a much needed recap. This past term we’ve had the most wonderful demonstrations from gluten free to cheese via offal and pasta. We’ve been given more free reign in the kitchen, often told to simply create our own versions from ingredients available, and trusted with the most beautiful and more costly ingredients. We have learnt so much and experienced so much this term that it’s hard to think that only a couple of months ago we were stressing over the shrinkage of shortcrust pastry and the consistency of creme anglais because we can do those things in our sleep now.
A wave of fear comes down when thinking about the final term. Not so much when faced with the certainty of tackling puff and danish pastry in the approaching summer sun or the clearing of consommes, but more the thought that it will all be over so soon. In three months, this will be over and we’re going to have to face the real world. It’s been about ten years since I was anywhere near the real world and whilst I am open to going wherever the wind and chance may guide me, I’m afraid because I don’t know yet where that might be or how I go from the safety of a teaching kitchen to a professional post. Ultimately, I can only stay with saying ‘I’m seeing what happens’ – there are so many different paths to go down, so many, that I don’t just want to look down one and ignore the others.
So on Sunday, I pack up my bags again to head back into London leaving Vinnie and the cats behind again. It’s OK – they survive without me (Vinnie on store-bought kievs and the cats get second suppers from the neighbours), but here’s to the final stretch!
Preparation Time: Overnight marinade
Cooking Time: 2.5 hours
- 500g pork belly with fat unattached
- 3 star anise
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves
- 1T cinnamon or 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1/2T fennel seeds
- 1/2T szechuan pepper
- 1 litre ginger ale
- The night before, grind all the spices together either in a pestle and mortar or a spice/coffee grinder until fine.
- With a sharp knife, carefully remove the top layer of fat and skin if it is not already seperated and place to the side.
- Rub the spice mixture all over the meat on all sides.
- Score the fat, through the skin but not piercing through the fat itself. Sprinkle over a generous amount of salt and oil and rub into the scores. Place on top of the meat in a roasting tray and leave, uncovered, in the fridge overnight. Leaving it uncovered will help the skin dry out for better crackling.
- The next day, when ready to cook, bring the meat out to get to room temperature and get the oven up to 230C and put the pork in for 20-25 minutes until the crackling is starting to crisp and bubble.
- Pour in the ginger ale until it reaches halfway up the side of the pork and turn the heat down to 170C. Cook for 1 hour.
- Turn down to 160C for a further hour.
- If the crackling is still undercooked, return to a 230 oven while the pork rests for 15-20 minutes.
- The liquid can be strained and reduced to make a sauce, thicken with a buerre manie (equal parts flour and butter) if a thicker consistency is wanted.