Sorry for the lack of blog action over the past couple of weeks. I’ve been away in Devon for the past week or so, so my home cooking has taken a bit of a backseat.
Carrying on from last blogs brunch, we all decided to set another theme which this time was set as surf and turf. Like brunch, this was a bit of a funny one for me as surf and turf isn’t normally something I decide to cook, so it was time to get my thinking cap on again! I often cook fish and add something like chorizo or bacon to add another flavour, but I wouldn’t class this in the same way as the fish is always the main part. In my mind surf and turf should share equal prominence whilst complementing each other perfectly. I also wanted to stay away from the cliche of beef and lobster. Not only does my budget not stretch as far as this too often, but I also feel like a good bit of steak doesn’t even need anything else and vice versa. It will certainly be interesting to see what everyone else comes up with, and it’s really always inspiring to chat about it on Twitter.
White fish and pork are always good companions, but I wanted to do something a little different with this dish. I’ve always loved pork belly, but I often find that the big slab normally dished up is a bit much. Combining this with soft white fish lessons the portion size and makes a much more balanced plate of food. Pork belly also has a more subtle flavour than bacon or chorizo, so each ingredient on the plate stands out. Most flakey white fish would be a suitable pairing, and in this instance I opted to use cod cheeks. This came after a chat a while ago with local fishmonger Jon Norris, who recommended that I use them instead of monkfish in a dish that I was planning at the time. Like monkfish they have a meaty texture and can stand up to bold flavours. I also like the idea of using a less used part of the fish, especially with cod where the amount of flesh in the cheeks is too good to ignore.
Although I was pleased with the way that the dish turned out and ate, in reflection there are a few changes that I would make if cooking again. The cod cheeks were really good but I feel like the proportions were still a little uneven, so I would reduce the amount of cod a little. I would also be tempted to scrap the panko and deep fry element and gently poach the fish instead. This would reduce the richness further still, whist the crunchy texture would still be a part of the dish in the form of the pork crackling. I think in cooking sometimes you get tied-up in habit, and recently I have been breading and frying perhaps a few too many things when something a little simpler would have been better. That said, fried cod cheeks and bearnaise as a meal in itself would still be immense.
When buying pork belly and pork in general, always buy as good quality as you can afford, and always buy a lot more than you need. I went to the brilliantly fantastic Ginger Pig in Victoria Park for this. Slow roasted pork makes incredible leftovers, and if you use 1.5kg for 4 people in this recipe you will get a fair bit. I plan on using it in a slightly healthier but equally delicious vietnamese style soup with loads of chilli, ginger and lime.
Bearnaise is a classic french sauce that is well worth mastering. The creamy yet tangy tarragon and butter goes so well with anything from steak to white fish, and really helps tie everything together in this recipe. I used Michel Roux Jr’s version as a base for the recipe below, which as usual is easy to follow and tastes great. This original can be found here:
For the pork belly:
1.5kg piece of pork belly
2 fennel bulbs, sliced thickly
5 garlic cloves
1 large glass dry white wine
Salt and pepper
For the cod cheeks:
6-8 cod cheeks - you want 3 x 1 inch pieces per person
1 large handful panko breadcrumbs
100g plain flour
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for frying, about 1 litre
For the bearnaise sauce:
4 egg yolks
1 small banana shallot, very finely chopped
4 tbsp tarragon, chopped
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
250ml clarified butter
1/2 lemon, juice only
3 tbsp cold water
Salt and pepper
For the peas:
150g frozen peas, defrosted
1/2 small banana shallot, finely chopped
1/2 lemon, juice only
1/2 clove garlic
1 tbsp tarragon leaves
Salt and pepper
1 braeburn apple, cut into 1cm squares
50g celeriac, julienned
1/2 lemon, juice to squeeze over the prepped celeriac and apple
Preheat the oven to 140ºC.
Take the piece of pork belly out of the fridge bring to room temperature. Using a sharp knife slash through the fat at 2.5cm intervals. This will help the crackling crisp up and will also make slicing easier once cooked. Sprinkle generously with sea salt and rub into the fat so it gets between the slash marks. Drizzle with a little olive oil and set aside while you prepare the trivet. Slice the fennel and arrange with the garlic in the bottom of an oven tray. Season and toss in a little more olive oil. Place the pork belly skin side up on top and put in the oven for 2.5 hours. Add the white wine to the bottom of the oven tray half way through cooking.
While the pork belly is on make the bearnaise sauce. Pour the white wine vinegar into a small saucepan with three quarters of the tarragon, some seasoning and the chopped shallot. Reduce by half over a low heat then take off the heat and allow to cool. If clarifying your own butter then do this at this point too and cool slightly (Roux suggests it should be tepid). When the reduction is cool add the egg yolks and whisk well. Return to a very low heat and carry on whisking continuously and making sure that the mixture doesn’t get hot enough the scramble. After about 10 minutes the eggs will have emulsified with the reduction and formed a thick frothy texture. Take off the heat and very slowly add the butter, whisking still until all the butter has been incorporated into the sauce. Pass through a sieve then add the remaining tarragon and taste. Squeeze in the lemon and season if necessary. Cover and set aside.
Next prepare the cod cheeks. Put the flour and panko onto two separate plates and beat the egg in a small bowl. Season each element. Coat each cheek with the flour then dip in the egg before transferring to the panko plate and covering well with the breadcrumbs. Cover and set aside.
When the 2.5 hours is up, raise the heat of the oven to 210ºC and cook the pork for another 15-20 minutes, or until the crackling is bubbling and crispy. Take out of the oven and allow to rest while the rest of the dish is finished.
Heat the frying oil for the cod cheeks in a medium saucepan to 160ºC.
When the deep frying oil is up to temperature carefully lower the cheeks in and fry for a couple of minutes until golden and crisp on the outside. Use a slotted spoon to remove them to a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain.
While the cod cheeks are cooking fry the shallot and garlic in the other saucepan for a minute until softened. Add the peas, lemon and seasoning and cook until the peas are tender. Stir in the tarragon leaves.
To plate up, spoon some of the bearnaise onto the middle of the plate and place a piece of the pork belly on top. Arrange the cod cheeks on the plate and add the peas. Finish with the apple cubes, some of the celeriac matchsticks and peashoots.