So, it’s been a while since I posted anything up here. So long in fact that it feels kind of strange to be writing a blog post. Anyway, rather than make a load of excuses about why I haven’t posted recently or resolutions about how I’m going to blog more in 2013 (I’ll try, alright?) I thought I should just get on and tell you about why I’m writing this blog post.

About six months ago I was walking past the Sillfield Farm shop at Borough and noticed that they were selling off huge hunks of rare breed pork belly for super cheap. Consequently, I ended up with a couple of kilos of tasty belly pork which I promptly froze and they’ve been sitting in my freezer waiting for me to use them ever since. Every time I’ve opened the freezer, it’s been sitting there reminding me that I still haven’t cooked it. Eventually, I couldn’t stand it any more, knowing that it was in there like the tell tale pig, so I defrosted it, reasoning that would force me to cook it.

But what to make? Given that it’s Christmas, my house is already awash with a surfeit of roasted meat and much as I love roast pork, I couldn’t quite face any more rich roast meat so I decided on using some of the meat to make rillons, juicy tender cubes of belly pork, slow cooked in fat and aromatics and then preserved under a layer of lard. REALLY TASTY!

This recipe is very similar to the one for rillettes that I made a year or so ago, the main difference being that I’ve cooked them with some extra aromatics and haven’t shredded them like you would do with rillettes.

You can use rillons much like you would rillettes, spooned straight from the jar and spread on toast.

They’re also amazing when refried until crispy and served with potatoes, spring greens etc. They make a perfect store cupboard food for when you don’t have the time or inclination to make something fancy as they keep for ages!

Rillon ingredients. More green than pink...

Rillon ingredients. More green than pink…

Jon’s Rillons
800g belly pork
2 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp fresh picked thyme leaves
4/5 garlic cloves
150 ml white wine
3 bay leaves

Preheat your oven to a super low setting,(Gas Mark 1/4 or about 80c)

Whilst it is coming up to temperature, take your belly pork, derind it, and chop it into cubes of about an inch in size.

Cubing the pork with my favourite jamon knife.

Cubing the pork with my favourite jamon knife.

Next, place the pork in a large casserole dish with a close fitting lid. Add all of the other ingredients and mix thoroughly.until the meat is well covered in seasonings. Make a lid for the casserole dish using foil before adding the actual lid. This will ensure that the meat gently steams in its own juices and makes it super tender.

Ready for the ole low'n'slow.

Ready for the ole low’n’slow.

Put the pork in the oven and cook for at least 8 hours. It’s good to cook overnight or whilst you’re out at work. It doesn’t matter if you cook it for longer than eight hours, it’s only going to get more tender. When you’re happy that the pork is thoroughly cooked, remove it from the oven and discard the foil. By this time the meat should be meltingly tender and relaxing in a jacuzzi of its own fat.

Carefully strain the meat through a sieve to separate out the fat. Reserve the fat. You may want to discard the garlic or leave it in there. I got rid of mine as it’d oxidised slightly and gone an unattractive green/blue colour.

Packing Pork

Packing Pork

Take your pork chunks and pack them loosely into sterilised pots or jars before pouring over the liquid fat to create an airtight seal around the meat. Set them aside to cool and there you have it; a finished jar of rillons. Dig in!

Finished jar of rillons.

Finished jar of rillons.


Paprika Cured Pancetta

Finished bacon. Ready for slicing. Rolled to fit through my slicer

I’ve been wanting to make something like this ever since I visited the London Charcuterie Festival last year and saw a brick-red piece of cured pork on sale among the other treats on the Flavours of Spain stall. After a brief chat with them on Twitter, they confirmed that it was a cured pancetta dusted with paprika. Not having had a recipe to work from, I’ve had to use a lot of guesswork and the result is quite different to the bacon I saw that fateful day; it is, however, absolutely delicious and one to be recommended if you have the patience to wait four weeks for your bacon. I’ve already used mine in a smoky tomato soup, as a wrap for chicken and, of course, in a sandwich.

Weighing out paprika.

Jon’s Paprika Cured Bacon
800g belly pork
28g salt
12g dark brown sugar
4g black pepper
5g smoked paprika
5g sweet paprika
4g garlic powder
3g red pepper flakes
3g Prague powder #1
2 or 3 crumbled bay leaves

Take your belly pork and carefully remove the skin, taking care to leave a decent layer of fat on the meat.  Set aside whilst you weigh out and combine your salt and spices.

Rubbing spices into pork

Place the piece of pork in a freezer bag and rub it thoroughly with your seasoning mix, being sure to work it into all of the folds of the meat.

Bacon, rubbed with cure and ready for the fridge.

Seal or wrap your meat in the bag and place in the fridge for a week to cure, turning and rubbing as per usual to ensure that the cure is evenly distributed. After about a week, remove the bacon from the bag and place on a rack in the fridge to dry. By this stage,  some of the moisture will have seeped from the meat and helped to further distribute the cure.

Leave the meat in the fridge for anything up to four weeks by which time the flesh will have dried out and darkened and the flavour will have intensified considerably. This bacon is now ready to use however you want. I had to roll mine to fit it through my slicer but you could easily cut rashers off with a knife. It has a heady smoky paprika aroma and a deeply savoury taste. I want to make this again and maybe try smoking it as I think that will really intensify the flavour even more. I’ll update this post if I do.

Adventures With the Duck: Duck Prosciutto

Another non-pork post! Don’t worry, I’ll be back on pork soon but in the meantime, more duck! This post is a follow up to my confit duck leg post from before Christmas and it’s doubly exciting because it’s my first bona fide attempt at charcuterie. Over the next few months, I’m determined to learn to make charcuterie proper and this is my first tentative step.

Finished duck ham. Meaty.

If you’re following on from the previous adventure with the duck then once you’ve confited your duck legs, you’re left with the jewels of the bird, the breast. Plump and rich tasting, with a delicious thick and creamy layer of fat on top, this cut lends itself to be being made into prosciutto. It’s also fabulously easy; one of the first recipes in Ruhlman’s Charcuterie bible.  It’s so easy, in fact, that it was chosen as the first challenge in last year’s Year of Meat: CharcutePalooza. blog challenge so I’m a bit late to the party on this one.

First things first though, if you’ve made the confit duck recipe mentioned a few weeks ago, you’ll be left with a legless duck carcass that needs a mastectomy. My butchery skills are pretty good but when it comes to birds, they don’t come anywhere close to Liz’s and so I handed over the bird…and this blog to her for this part.

Once you’ve removed the legs and wings from the body of the duck, you’ll just have the body remaining. The breastbone runs between the two fillets, which lie over the bird’s rib cage. With the duck breast-side up, and the neck end facing away from you, take a small, sharp knife and cut from the outer edge of the breast in towards the breast bone. Your aim is to separate the top of the fillet from the wishbone.

Run the knife down along the breastbone, using the tip of the knife to cut the breasts away from the carcass.  I find it’s helpful at this point to turn the carcass around so I can keep the knife in my right hand and use my left hand to pull the meat out of the way. Use the tip of the knife and a light hand to carefully free the meat from the rib cage. You should end up with the fillet just attached to the body at its outer edge – cut through to remove it, then repeat on the other fillet.

Liz carving off the duck breasts.

When you’ve finished dismembering your bird you’ll be left with two breasts, a duck carcass that you can use for stock and various odds and sods that I’ll tell you how to use up at the end of this post. The actual process of curing duck breast is incredibly simple and so you can have a lot of fun experimenting with different flavour combinations without actually changing the basic recipe very much at all. For these two breasts, I decided to cure one plain and one with a few extra flavourings.

Jon’s Duck Prosciutto
2 Duck Breasts
200g or so of salt. (enough to completely cover the duck breasts)

8 -10 Black Peppercorns, roughly crushed
Juniper berries
A couple bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme

You will also need some cooks muslin, string, and a cool place to hang the meat.

Take a non-reactive bowl large enough to comfortable accommodate your two duck breasts. Pour a layer of salt into the bottom of the dish and lay the duck breasts on top skin side up. Pour over enough salt to completely cover the meat, then cover with cling film and place in the fridge.

Pouring salt on the ducks

Leave the breasts in the fridge for twenty four hours to cure and draw out any excess water. By this time a brine will have devloped around the duck portions and the meat itself will be a slightly darker colour. Remove the meat from the brine and rinse thoroughly before carefully patting dry.

Cut a piece of muslin large enough to comfortably wrap each duck breast. Lay the duck breast on your cut pieces of muslin and season however you would like. I sprinkled thyme, crushed juniper berries, peppercorns and a couple of bayleaves on one and for the other I just gave it a few twists of fresh black pepper.

Mummfied Donald Duck

Wrapping the duck breast

Wrap your duck breasts completely in the muslin and tie off firmly with string (butcher’s string is ideal) Now take the breasts and hang them in a cool dark place for a minimum of one week. It’s worth weighing them and this stage and making a note of it.

You want to hang them in a place with a humidity of around 60% and a temperature around 12°c (but no higher than 15°c.) Mine went in a clean empty cupboard in the unheated spare room along with a cheap hygrometer to keep an eye on the conditions.

The duck breasts wrapped in muslin and hung in the cupboard to dry. Hygrometer in the background.

I left my duck breast to cure for 10 days by which time they had lost about a third of their starting weights and were firm to the touch.

Now it’s simply a case of unwrap, slice, and serve, maybe with some rye bread, cornichons and some fiery mustard. Its a delicious dish that looks impressive and tastes wonderful with its mix of gamey savouriness and creamy, salty fat.

Cured duck prosciutto. Plain on the left, flavoured on the right.

The Leftovers

If you’ve made both the confit and the duck prosciutto then you’re going to be left with a duck carcass, some skin and some odds and sods of meat. All this will make beautifully rich gelatinous stock if you simmer it for an hour or two with some onions, carrot and celery. You can then use this as the base for a damn fine soup or use a few spoonfuls to enrich sauces.

Even better than that is if once you’ve made your stock, you pick over the carcass and tear off any scraps of skin and meat that remain. Fry these until good and crispy in some duck fat along with a few new potatoes. Stir through some salad leaves and serve with a poached egg and some hollandiase (or just a decent vinaigrette) and you have one of the greatest salads known to man, you can even bang in some lardons if you’re feeling really decadent.

Mmm duck salad.

Adventures With The Duck: Confit Duck Legs

Adventures with the Duck. Yep. You read that right. It’s an anatidaen takeover!

Pigs are wonderful and versatile creatures who offer up their bounty in a multitude of ways but, as a biblical figure never said, “man cannot live by pork alone” and with Christmas fast approaching, now’s the time to treat yourself to some of the less everyday meats.

I recently bought a whole duck, mainly because I’m a very whimsical shopper. Liz despairs when I go shopping because I never come back with the things we need and alway come back with a million things we don’t. I’m basically this guy. On this occasion however, I stand by my claim that this was a worthwhile investment. Ducks are not the cheapest of creatures but given that you can buy a whole duck for only a few pence more than a couple of breasts, it’s good to know what you can do with your bonus ‘free’ meat.

Making confit duck legs is a process very similar to the rilettes I blogged about a few weeks ago and leaves you with beautiful, crispy duck meat that keeps for ages as well as lots of wonderful flavoured fat that you can use for making incredible fried or roast potatoes or just for spreading on toast as a guilty snack. It’s also incredibly easy, and has the added satisfaction of knowing you’ve made something at home that you’d otherwise only get in a restaurant, or would pay a lot of money for in a fancy deli.

Before I get started with the recipe, I should say a few words about jointing your bird. I’ll just cover the legs and wings here and cover the breasts in my next post. You can apply the same principle to pretty much any bird and it almost always works out cheaper than buying individual portions.

Take the duck and lie it on its back on a chopping board. Pull one of the legs away from the body slightly and carefully make an incision between the breast and the leg, exposing the joint that connects the leg to the body. Gently but firmly pull the leg away from the body, twisting it away from you until you feel the joint pop out of its socket. With the joint  dislocated it’s easy to cut away the flap of skin and fat that holds the leg onto the body.

Psycho with a cleaver.

Pulling the leg away from the body. Slightly sinister tshirt.

Turn the bird round and repeat until you have two duck legs ready for confiting. You can also use the same technique on the wings and throw them into your confit for a little extra treat if you want.

Jon’s Confit Duck.
2 duck Legs
2 duck wings (optional: the wings don’t tend to have much meat on so it’s up to you if you use them for this or not)
20g salt
5g celery salt
2g black pepper
2g garlic powder or 4 minced garlic cloves
3 bay leaves crumbled
4 sprigs/1tbsp thyme
750g-1kg duck fat or lard.

First place your duck legs (and wings if using) in a glass or ceramic bowl just large enough to hold them comfortably. Take the garlic, herbs,salt and pepper and mix together thoroughly before rubbing them all over your pieces of meat. Return to the dish, cover and refrigerate.

Duck legs and wings resting in salt and herbs.

Leave your duck legs in the fridge for a couple of days, turning them over half way through. By this time the salt will have drawn a lot of moisture from the legs and they will be sitting in a herby brine of their own making. Remove them from this, brush off any clumps of salt that are stuck to them and pat them dry. In the mean time, take a small blob of duck fat and place in a frying pan over a high heat until the pan is hot but not quite smoking.

Quickly brown off your legs (and wings) on all sides along with any herbs from the brine. This should only take five minutes or so. While the meat is frying, put your oven on a low heat (around 150º c / gas mark 2)

Browning the duck pieces in their own fat.

Transfer your meat and any pan juices into a roasting dish just large enough to accommodate all the pieces snugly and spoon over duck fat until the pieces are completely submerged along with any remaining herbs from the pan.

Duck Legs and added fat

Duck pieces with vanilla ice fat.

Place the meat in the oven and braise it gently in its own fat until it is completely tender. This should take a couple of hours but there’s no harm for leaving them in for three. There is very little danger of overcooking this.

I found I didn’t have quite enough fat to completely cover the meat so I had to turn the pieces over every 45 minutes or so to prevent the exposed pieces from drying out

Duck legs after an hour in the oven.

When your duck legs are cooked, remove from the oven and rest for five minutes. Pour off the fat and seasonings and reserve.

Duck legs after three hours in the oven. Most of the fat strained off.

Place your duck pieces in a pot (ideally with a lid) large enough to accommodate them as snugly as you can. That way you will need less fat to cover them. Pour over the reserved cooking fat and add any more as neccessary until the pieces are completely submerged.. Don’t worry about using a large amount of fat. It isn’t used to excess in the final cooking but will keep and can be used for a variety of things including making the last word in crispy roast potatoes.

Confit duck, finished and waiting to cool.

When your meat is completely submerged in fat, set it aside and leave to cool. Sit back, pour yourself a little reward and bask in the glory of having made a beautiful thing.  When the fat is cool, cover with a lid, muslin, or cling film and refrigerate. These will keep for a few months in the fridge under their protective layer and the knowledge that you have some delicious seasoned duck legs ready to go at a moment’s notice is a wonderful thing.

Ruhlman, Charcuterie, Confit Duck Leg

Finished confit duck ready for use whenever I want. Resting on a copy of 'Charcuterie'.

When you’re ready to serve the duck legs simply remove them from the fat and crisp them them up in a hot frying pan with a little of the fat until they are heated all the way through. These are great as a simple supper with some dauphinoise potatoes or served as part of a cassoulet. I’m sorry I don’t have a cooked photograph for you but I’m going to use mine for a very special recipe in the new year…