It's no surprise that my mind continually turns toward food. No, not always about eating it, but how it should be made or served or what would go well with what. I'm going to call it An Occupational Hazard.
I can't speak for any other chefs, but I like to keep a notebook handy for when inspiration strikes. Sometimes it might be while I'm watching TV, reading a book, grocery shopping, or pretty much any other time. I scribble stuff down with a name or description and usually a little sketch. I can't even clean out my handbag without checking the back of receipts for one of my cryptic messages.
Sometimes these ideas come to nothing. Sometimes I can't even read my own writing! But "Great oaks from little acorns grow" and you never can tell, one of these might be my ticket to culinary fame and fortune- maybe.
This is how my dish started, an idea rattling around my mind. As you can see, I cross things out, change things around and put ideas out there that I realise are a bad idea even as I write them down. The end result might not resemble the original in the slightest, it's the process that's important to me.
I started off by braising the pork belly. Now if I was making this 'for real' I would get one that wasn't already scored. I put in a small size pan with apple cider and some thyme and cook it on about 160* until the pork is very,very tender, topping up the cider as needed. Be careful not to get a sweet cider, it won't be nice in the end product.
When the pork is cooked, place it in a clean tray and weigh it down overnight. This will compress the meat to a nice firmness and make it nice and flat for uniformity. As you can see, due to fridge space, I didn't really follow my own advice and didn't get it flat enough. I pour the cooking liquid back in with the meat as it helps keep it moist and it needs to be saved anyway.
You can do these steps a couple of days ahead of time. You don't think we make a dish like this from scratch while you wait in the restaurant, do you?
Once the meat is ready to this point, scrape off all the fat and jellied liquid, turn it skin side down and slice into thick pieces. It's easier and tidier this way. Bear in mind the size of the apples and the plate the meal will be served on when slicing.
This leaves the sauce. The liquid the pork was cooked in will have set to a firm jelly overnight and the fat risen to the surface. Scrape off the fat and discard. Put the jelly in a pan and melt down. Reduce by about half, add in a good splash of brandy- apple brandy preferably, and a good knob of butter. Check the seasoning. This should now be a lovely, rich, sticky sauce that tastes fantastic. Yumm.
I thought celeriac would work really well with these flavours. If you haven't tried it, its a beautifully mellow, celery tasting, ugly looking beast, but please give it a try- it's so worth while.
Peel and chop into chunks- be quick as it'll go brown like a peeled apple. Place in a saucepan with milk and season with salt and white pepper, brown flecks won't be attractive. Cook down until very, very soft then drain and blend with cream and tiny bit of butter to a velvety smoothness. Again, this can be made well in advance and heated up before serving.
The apple component changed quite a bit from my original plan. I still don't like it, so I'll give you instructions for the new and improved version, but be warned, I may still change my mind before I dish it up for you at my next dinner party.
Peel the apple, then cut it thickly BEFORE you core it. Trust me, it's easier this way. I also peeled an onion and cut a cored section from it's middle. This core needs to be briefly cooked as it takes longer than the apple. Stuff the onion into the apple. I think next time I'd tidy them up by using a ring cutter to tidy the edges and make it a smaller diameter, or possibly slicing them into a thick baton to fit the profile of the pork slice. In my photos the apple is very wonky, and the apple to pork ratio was a bit overpowering, so it definitely needs tweaking.
In a heavy based pan, put a decent knob of butter with a little oil and cook the apple until it's nice and golden. Turn it over carefully then season and top up with chicken stock and a sprig of thyme. Cook slowly until the apple is lovely and soft and cooked through- not mushy! The stock should evaporate away and the bottom of the apple will be beautifully burnished.
Now to plate the dish and pull it altogether into a harmonious whole.
Make sure everything is hot and ready to go, hot plates are best as well.
When ready for serving, heat a pan with some oil to hot, then place skin side down and allow to start crisping. Turn it over then pop into a preheated oven to keep crackling and to heat through. My pork is rather over browned (burnt), but my cat distracted me by leaping onto the bench and sniffing around the rest of the meat. I can assure you, this would be unlikely to happen in a commercial kitchen, at least I hope not! Cat bribed away with scraps, continue. With the pork nice and flat, it's easier to get an even crackle with a lovely shattering crunch.
Put a decent dollop of celeriac puree at the side of the plate and pull the spoon over to the other side leaving a nice smear.
Place the apple pieces slightly apart on the puree and top with a piece of pork.
Spoon some of the rich golden sauce over the meat, it will pool on the plate so don't add too much or it won't look balanced.
Top with a garnish. I think a thin fried beetroot chip would be good and add some much needed colour, otherwise some pretty red stemmed micro herbs, we don't want a symphony in beige on the plate. I had neither, so just use your imagination.
Serve with some nice earthy tasting greens like broccolini, as you can see, mine were rather past their prime. The yellow is not desirable in a GREEN vegetable.
I'm still not happy with the finished dish. The flavour is there, and the cooking techniques are fine, but the look still needs some work. I also need to say that the correct plate adds to effect. I actually borrowed this plate from my friend Pony, as I don't have any white plates. I have an eclectic mix of styles and colours that all blend together well. This way it doesn't matter if something gets broken, I haven't ruined a matching set.
I think this would look better on a rectangular white plate. It would add to the linear effect of the puree and the nice slices of pork.