Pork Belly with Braised Savoy Cabbage and Cauliflower Purée
I think I may have unwittingly converted a couple of friends to the ethereal delights of pork the other night while deliberately endeavouring to convert myself to the cruciferous displeasures of cauliflower by enlisting the help of my trusty sidekick, the never disappointing pork belly. The stars must have been aligned that night, or could it have been the mystical influence of the Supermoon? The evening culminated into an unplanned and improvised process that ultimately left everyone glazy-eyed and content.
It was a Saturday afternoon, and we were driving back from the country, having spent the day going to a couple of farmers markets, dropping by a local vineyard for some wine tasting, and ending the trip with a visit to a cheese shop. I was in good spirits, my sensory requirements have been well looked after and I was now eager to share the joy. I was in the mood for something cozy and comforting like a stew with white beans but my partner can’t stand beans. I resented it because I missed eating beans since arriving in New Zealand. They remind me of meals from my childhood ( i.e. white bean soup with tarragon) and of my travels through the Caribbean and Central America where beans are a staple ingredient to so many dishes. But then I reminded myself that I too wouldn't go near some foods. There are less than a handful of vegetables to which I refuse bestowing the attribute of "comestible food", namely broccoli, okra, and cauliflower. I can’t stand the things! I pride myself on eating everything as long as it is tasty and made well, however I have yet to be converted to these three vegetables. My partner, on the other hand loves them and he too has missed eating them since my move here. So there and then I decided to take the matter into my own hands and coax one of these vegetables into submission. Cauliflower it is!
As I was rolling the idea around in my head a menu began to come together. I was going to make pork belly, with braised savoy cabbage, and cauliflower purée. Being Romanian, the one thing that I am sure of is that cabbage and pork are a marriage made in heaven. I had a nice piece of free-range pork belly from Freedom Farms that had the potential to transform even cauliflower into something edible. I had to get my head around it all, guests were coming in a couple of hours and I had no idea if this was going to work. Once I started on the pork belly however, I fell into a trance, I was in the Zone.
Forward a couple of hours into the evening and we are all sitting around the table enjoying some excellent wine and eating our meal. Suddenly, my friend confessed that she doesn't normally eat pork. I felt terrible, it's one thing to inflict cauliflower on myself but I didn't count on my guests not fancying pork. I was relieved to know how much they enjoyed it. The sweetness of the braised savoy cabbage and cauliflower purée lay in perfect harmony with the savoury pork belly. The thyme ever so subtly lent a fragrance to the underside of the pork belly while the crispy cracking provided the perfect contrast to the tenderness of the cabbage and the silkiness of the purée . My guests were happy, I was happy, and I can now cross off cauliflower from my list of forbidden foods.
So here is how to make this flavourful dish by special request from Alex and Jamie:
The Pork Belly:
Good size chunk of pork belly1 medium onion - halved
2 large heads of garlic - halved
1 carrot – coarsely chopped
1 baby fennel (use only stalks here, set the bulb aside for garnish)
Salt and pepper
White wine and/or vegetable stock
- Score the skin.
- Massage the belly with olive oil, and plenty of salt and pepper
- In a roasting pan, lay the pork belly, skin side up, on top of a bed of whole garlic cloves and onion that have been sliced in half, chopped carrot and fennel stocks. Top off the bed with a substantial cover of thyme sprigs.
- Pour in about 2 cups of white wine into the pan.
- Cover with tin foil.
- Place in preheated oven and bake at about 160 C/ 320 F for about 2 hours. Check now and then to ensure the liquid has not completely disappeared in which case, add more wine or vegetable stock.
- Towards the last 15 minutes, remove the pork belly from its bed of herbs and vegetables and let grill (set oven to ensure the heat is coming from above) by itself uncovered so that you get a nice crispy crackling.
- Remove the carrots, onion and some of the caramelized garlic from the pan and set aside.
- Create a sauce from the remaining jus and bits of roasted garlic by deglazing the pan with more wine, add some butter and adjust seasoning to taste.
While the pork belly is cooking…
The Cauliflower Purée :
½ a head of cauliflower – chopped into florets
1.5 – 2 cups of milk
1 garlic clove¼ tsp. cumin
1 small potato (optional)
- In a medium sauce pan, pour in the milk then add in 2/3 of the cauliflower florets and a whole clove of garlic. I added one small potato for more consistency but this is up to you.
- Let simmer on low heat until softened, about 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, take the remaining 1/3 of the florets, sprinkle with olive oil, cumin, salt & pepper and roast them in the oven for about 20 minutes or until they begin to soften and caramelize. I toasted some cumin seeds which I then ground and sprinkled on top of the florets before popping them into the oven. Cooking the cauliflower two ways will give the purée a richer and more complex flavour. Once both are cooked, tip in the contents, including the remaining milk that the florets were cooking in, into the food processor and blitz until silky and smooth adding butter, and salt & pepper to taste.
- You can also add some of the caramelized garlic paste from the pork belly into the puree for extra richness of flavour.
- You can set it aside and reheat it later before serving.
1/3 of a head of savoy cabbage – chopped into thin slices
2 shallots - sliced (or ¼ sliced leek)
1 garlic clove - crushed
1 tbsp. chopped bacon or pancetta
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
- In a large pan, sauté a couple of shallots, a crushed garlic clove and a small amount of diced bacon or pancetta.
- Add the thinly sliced savoy cabbage, sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir letting the ingredients sweat and soften.
- Add the apple cider vinegar and ½ cup of vegetable stock into the pan, cover and let cook at low heat for about 35 or 40 minutes. Keep adding liquid along the way if the cabbage looks too dry.
- You are now ready to make use of the caramelized carrots, onion, and garlic that you have removed from under the pork belly. Squeeze out the garlic paste and chop up the carrots and onion then stir them into the braising cabbage. This will add some sweetness to it and loads of flavour! Let it continue cooking for another 5 minutes or so.
Garnish the dish the reduced jus and thinly sliced baby fennel and voilà!