Saturday, April 14, 2012
Let me start out with the obvious, this dish is made with a lot of fat, heaps of it, that doesn’t mean it will make it to the plate though, it is just a means to a delicious end. I feel I should point out I’m not using a fashionable fat here either, I’m not talking about confiting in olive oil or duck fat, no I’m using good old fashioned very tasty and awesome lard. Come on, I’m confiting pork here, what did you expect me to use? Lard isn’t that bad, it has a bad rap more from bad memories and the jazzercise health police, rather than facts. You think duck fat roasted potatoes are a health food? Well no... But duck fat is a popular fat, so thoughts of ill health effects slip greasily to the back of the mind, Butter is fat du jour, and Olive oil will cure what ails you.
The fact of it is lard has less saturated fat than butter (12%) and less than half the cholesterol, yes lard is higher in calories (about 15–20%) but butter is about 15–18% water. Look anyway, I’m not advocating cooking with it everyday, I’m just saying it’s not as evil as it has been made out to be. It doesn’t deserve that scowl and revolted “You cooked that in lard!?”.
Now with that mini rant over and done with, I’ll start with another warning, this dish takes a while, about 12 hours curing, 12 hours cooking time, 12 hours pressing, and hey only about 20 minutes of final cooking, so if you’re on to it, you could cure overnight, get it in the oven in the morning, press and cool it in the evening, and cook it for dinner the next night. Start on a Friday evening, and eat on Sunday evening.
First off the cure, weigh your piece of meat, and calculate 2%, that’s how much salt you need. Mix rock or kosher salt, with some thyme and szechuan pepper. Coat the pork in the salt mix and place in a container (or ziplock bag) in the fridge overnight.
Preheat your oven to 90ºC, no that’s not a misprint. Melt enough lard to completely submerge the pork cheek in the casserole/dutch oven you’ll be using. While the lard is slowly melting, take the pork out of the fridge and rinse all the salt off it. Pat the pork dry, and place it in the casserole dish, scatter in some spices (I used star anise and szechuan pepper). When the lard is completely liquid pour it gently over the pork, making sure it is fully submerged. Cover with tinfoil, you want to make as airtight seal as is possible, you don’t want any moisture to escape. Place it in the oven and forget about it for 12 hours.
Take two baking dishes (glass or ceramic is ideal), one needs to sit inside the other, Line the bigger of the two with some baking paper, and the bottom of the smaller one with cling film. Remove the dish from the oven, and take off the tin foil, check to see that the meat is indeed cooked and tender. You can now choose to be gung-ho about the whole process and carefully lift out the pork and place it in the larger baking dish, carefully placing the the smaller one on top, weigh it down with a few cans, and wrap the whole thing firmly with some cling film. Or, let it cool a while so the fat sets slightly and the meat is less fragile. Either way, once it’s wrapped, put it in the fridge for 12 hours to press.
Get the oven on and preheating to 200–220ºC. Remove the pork from the fridge and unwrap, remove the top dish with a little caution. Portion up the pork, and keep any offcuts (tasty cooks snack). When the oven is up to temperature, get a heavy based, ovenproof frying pan on to the heat, we want it to be scorching hot. Add a few drops of oil to the pan, place the pork skin side down in the pan, pressing down gently, cook for 1 minute then transfer to the oven for 15–20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven (don’t forget the handles hot!), and place the pork on a wooden board skin side up, to rest. While the pork rests, steam up some greens, I had some bok choy tossed in soy sauce, fish sauce and sesame seeds.
Out of the oven.
Melt in the mouth crisp skin.
'Test' piece with scallion and plum sauce (plum juice, spices and xanthan).