The idea for Sunday’s dinner started, as so many things do these days, with a tweet. The talented Vlad from Arun, my local bakery here in the ‘batter, had something special up his sleeve for Saturday’s Honest2Goodness market – his own take on the Waterford blaa, aptly christened the ‘Vlaa’. My poor jet-lagged brain went into overdrive the second I read the news, trying to come up with a worthy filling. Until – bingo! – I remembered that I still had a lovely cut of pork belly from the foodie uncle in the freezer, and a head of cabbage left in the garden. Pulled pork sandwiches with a crisp slaw it would be.
(Of course, the same jet-lagged state had me snoring in bed until far too late on Saturday morning, and we only just managed to snag the last four vlaas at the market, but all’s well that ends well!)
This method of cooking pork belly lends itself well to a lazy Sunday: minimal prep, of the sort that can be done in one’s pyjamas over a cup of tea, and a long, slow, delicious-smelling roasting time. And, as an added bonus, a leftover cider aperitivo – it’d be wrong to leave it behind, right?
Pulled pork belly ‘Vlaas’ with apple and fennel slaw
For the pork:
1kg pork belly, a middle bit if possible
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
zest of one lemon
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp cider vinegar (I used Llewellyn’s balsamic)
6 shallots, peeled and halved
300ml dry cider (I used I used Armagh’s Carsons Crisp)
For the slaw:
the heart of 1 Savoy cabbage
1 fennel bulb
1 sharp apple (e.g. Granny Smith)
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp cider vinegar (the Llewellyn’s again, if you have it)
juice of one lemon
2 ‘Vlaas’, floury baps or sourdough rolls
2 potatoes for chipping, if you like
What to do:
First, crush the peppercorns in a pestle and mortar and mix through the lemon zest and thyme leaves to create a rub for the pork.
Use a sharp serrated knife or Stanley blade to score the fatty surface of the pork belly, deeply and at 1cm intervals. Gently spoon the vinegar across the scored surface, making sure it gets in between each of the ‘ridges’ in the skin. Rub the lemon, thyme and pepper mix into the sides and bottom of the pork belly. Return to the fridge, uncovered, and leave to marinate for two hours.
As the two-hour mark approaches, preheat the oven to 220C / 200C fan. Remove the pork from the fridge and rub half a teaspoonful of fine table salt into the skin. Arrange the halved shallots in the centre of a roasting tin and rest the pork on top. Sprinkle over a teaspoon of sea salt flakes and roast in the hot oven for 20 minutes to get the crackling started nicely.
Reduce the heat to 170C / 150C fan. Remove the pork from the oven and quickly pour the cider into the base of the tin, ensuring the pork stays dry. Return the tin to the oven and roast for a further two hours until the meat is tender, checking mid-way and adding more cider if needed.
To make the slaw, first shred the cabbage leaves finely using a mandoline or sharp knife. Transfer the shredded leaves to a bowl of ice water. Next, finely chop the fennel bulb, removing the wispy leafy bits and any tough stalk, and blanch the pieces in boiling water for thirty seconds before adding to the bowl with the cabbage (and more ice). Chop or grate the apple, and add to a second bowl with half the lemon juice and more cold water.
For the dressing, combine the cider vinegar and mayonnaise. Add the remaining lemon juice gradually and whisk to a smooth, pourable mixture.
Drain the cabbage and fennel and use a tea towel to get rid of any remaining moisture before transferring both to a clean bowl. Drain and add the apple, and pour in the dressing, mixing thoroughly. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until needed.
Once the pork is done, leave to rest for half an hour. Remove the crackling layer and shred the meat using two forks. Pile onto the vlaas, along with a spoonful of the cider juices from the roasting tin, a couple of pieces of crackling, and the slaw. Serve with chips on the side if you’re extra peckish, and a hoppy pale ale if you’re extra thirsty.