Going to choose the Christmas tree has to be one of my favourite Christmas traditions, and really means we can start to feel festive. This year we decided to go straight to the farm to get our tree. The Wheaton family from Great Slamseys Farm (@SlamseysFarm), near Braintree have been growing Christmas trees for over thirty years. They also make lovely fruit gins (@SlamseysDrinks) from local sloes and blackberries (to name a couple), but I digress!
On the way back we stopped off at Brown’s Larder at Cressing Rare Breed Meat. The shop is small but well stocked and there’s a great butcher’s counter as well as a deli counter. I’d been wanting to cook pork belly for ages, and theirs looked great, so without really knowing how we were going to cook it, we went for it. I wanted to cook something that would fit in nicely with our festive evening of decorating the tree so ended up making up the recipe below using cider and ingredients that you’d usually find in mulled wine to create a Christmassy flavoured dish.
All that we needed then was a mug of mulled wine. So to keep things local, we had Belgars Traditional Mulled Wine, which is supplied by Broadland Wineries (@BroadlandWinery) and available at the East of England Co-op, thanks to their Sourced Locally initiative.
The evening worked out pretty well – the pork was really tasty and the tree looks fab. Hope you enjoy the recipe!
Pork belly with apple braised in mulled cider
Pork belly – 2 thick strips with the bones removed (you could use a bigger piece of pork belly as it needs to be cut up into smaller chunks later on)
1tbsp rapeseed oil
2 Cox apples
2 tbsp sugar
Juice of half an orange
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
10 allspice berries
2cm fresh ginger
Zest of 1 orange (in a strip)
10g butter (soft)
1 tbsp (heaped) plain flour
First blanch the pork belly to remove the excess fat; bring a pan of water to the boil and then add in your pork. Cover and leave for around 3 minutes before removing the pork and tipping away the water.
Then cut up the pork into cubes of about an inch square, and heat the oil over a fairly high heat in a wide-based casserole pan. Once the oil is hot, add the cubes of pork, moving them occasionally so that they brown on all sides before removing them all from the pan and setting aside, but keeping the pan on the heat. While the pork is cooking, core the apples and slice each one into 8 pieces. Once you’ve removed the pork from the pan, add the apples and move them around so that they’re coated in any sticky bits that the pork has left behind. Then sprinkle over the sugar and give it a stir with the apples, before leaving it for a couple of minutes to caramelise.
Once the sugar has started to caramelise, add the pork back into the pan, swiftly followed by the cider and juice of half an orange. Give it all a good stir and scrape and more sticky bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves and allspice berries, then give the fresh ginger a bash and add that too along with the strip of orange zest. Season with pepper and a pinch of salt and give it all a good stir.
Bring it up to the boil, cover and simmer on a low heat for around 2 hours, checking and stirring it every now and then to make sure there’s still plenty of liquid and it’s not sticking to the pan.
After 2 hours, I’d recommend* removing the pork, apples and all of the spices from the pan using a slotted spoon, and picking out as many of the spices as possible. You should still have quite a lot of liquid left in the pan, so while the pork and apples are set aside, mix together the flour and butter to make a roux to thicken the sauce. Tip it into the pan and stir using a whisk to break it up. Turn up the heat and boil the sauce down (we reduced it by around a half, but you may prefer it with more or less sauce), and then add the pork and apples back in to heat back through before serving. We ate had it with braised red cabbage à la Delia, but it would also be lovely with mashed potatoes.
* We didn’t do this, but it would have been more enjoyable to eat if we had!