Raby Hunt Inspired Roast Pork Belly with Celeriac and Fennel Puree

Pork belly fennel celeriac puree

Helen recently treated us both to a tasting menu dinner at the Raby Hunt, near Darlington. It’s the only Michelin starred restaurant in the North East of England currently, although with Kenny Atkinson currently working on a Quayside restaurant in Newcastle, fingers crossed, we may get a  second in the near future…

The Raby Hunt Inn Summerhouses

Luckily for me, it’s a very good restaurant. This was our second visit and once again, we pushed the boat out and went for the tasting menu. We stopped short of the wine pairing as last time I think we set sail completely, knocking back glasses as each new one arrived, rendering the last few courses a somewhat hazy blur.

So, with a little more sobriety this time, I can confirm that yes, the food is excellent. In fact, this was the first tasting menu I’ve tried where I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every course. The theme is big flavour and locally sourced produce, with a nod to French cooking.

Being a belated birthday treat, Helen phoned ahead and I was delighted that the Head Chef James Close spent some time with us to chat at the end of the meal.

The story is really quite extraordinary. The restaurant has only been established 5 years or so and yet he has held a Michelin star for the last two of them. Not so long ago, by his own admission, he was serving gastropub meals – steaks and mussels, that kind of thing – so his rise to fine dining has been exponential.

We talked about the meal and I explained the highlight, for me was a smoked eel and duck parfait dish with various forms of beetroot. It was packed with flavour and I had to restrain myself from licking the plate. He looked a little weary when I said that (that it was my favourite, not me wanting to lick the plate) which I was surprised at initially, but he went on to explain that this has become something of a signature dish. With that comes the expectation by returning guests that it will still be available but also, at this standard of cuisine,  that it will vary slightly. This means he must try and come up something novel but strike a fine balance of keeping true to the original concept, but not straying too far. Very, very tricky.

 I was delighted to hear he takes a reccy every now and again to other Michelin starred restaurants for inspiration as it’s something I do shamelessly on a regular basis (though generally not Michelin starred joints of course). I chatted to his Soux Chef Ryan after a brief visit to the tiny (soon to be extended) kitchen and he explained that other restaurants have teams of chefs, even development chefs, to work on new ideas. This makes the Raby team’s accomplishments even more remarkable.

 And so, true to the spirit of reconnaissance dining, this dish is based squarely on Helen’s favourite course: (very) slow roasted suckling pig with artichoke puree.

I used pork belly from a local butcher and paired it up with a simple fennel and celeriac puree. I tried out a croquette of black pudding and apple, which was OK but the chicory addition was ‘acquired’ inspiration.

One of the reasons I made this was James explained that in preparing the pork, he leaves it to rest for a day, at which point it seems to gather up all the cooking liquor and flavour. I’d sort of discovered this by accident myself (I’d forgotten to take some out the oven after it had switched itself off and only remembered after work the next day), so it was great to hear this ‘qualified’ by him.

 The pork was simply roasted in a hot oven in a deep tray with half and half stock and cider filled up halfway. Once the skin was crispy, foil was added tightly and left to slow cook for 4 hours at low temperature. After, I simply turned off the oven and left it alone, completely until the next evening.

I didn’t remove the foil, not even touch the oven door, so in theory, everything inside was ‘sterile’, but you may want to put the pork in the fridge to rest, once cool, if worried. I didn’t as I wanted it to be room temperature when I arrived home, and it was absolutely fine.

For the pork:

  • 1 kg of good pork belly (with a decent layer of fat)  – skin scored
  • 400ml good dry cider
  • 400ml pork stock
  • Sea salt

 For the puree:

  • Half a celeriac
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 30g butter
  • About 200ml single cream (I find double cream a little too rich)
  • 2 garlic bulbs
  • Salt.

Celeriac fennel chicory

For the black pudding croquette:

  • 100g black pudding
  • 1 apple cored and peeled, chopped
  • 1 egg beaten
  • A few handfuls of breadcrumbs

Chichory, peashoots and more apple to serve.

 Get the oven on hot – 220°C/430°F

Boil a kettle and with the  pork in a clean sink, pour it over the skin to open it up. Dry thoroughly and rub the sea salt into the skin. Place it in a fairly tight fitting tray and fill with the cider and stock until it reaches the skin (don’t pour over the skin or submerge it)

Whack it in the oven until the skin crispens and reduce to 130°C/270°F. Top up the stock/cider and add the foil very tightly. Leave the pork to cook for 3-4 hours more (longer the better) then turn off the oven and leave it alone until ready to use the next day. If you want, put it in the fridge once cool.

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Remove the pork and set on a clean board. Pour the cooking liquor into a saucepan and gently simmer to reduce and concentrate while you crack on with the rest. It’ll be delicious.

Neatly trim the pork into portion sized square and heat an oven proof pan. Fry each side to colour and turn onto the skin side. Put a heavy pan on top (like a iron skillet) to push it down to crisp it up better. Turn skin side up and leave in the oven at 80°C/180°F (or the lowest setting) to warm through.

Belly pork prep

Meanwhile, peel and dice the celeriac and simmer until done. Meanwhile, sautee the fennel gently in a little butter. Put the lot into a blender or food processor and blend with the cream (add a bit at a time, it shouldn’t be to runny) until very smooth. Season, return to a lidded pan and keep warm.

 Blitz the black pudding and apple in a processor with half the egg. Season with salt and roll into croquette shapes. Dip them in the remaining egg, then the breadcrumbs and deep fry (or shallow fry) for a few minutes until crisp and cooked through – use a thermometer if unsure.

Taste the stock reduction and season if needed – it probably won’t – and stir in a small knob of butter for richness and shine. Strain it through a fine sieve or muslin cloth.

Straining the stock

Serve it all up with some chicory leaves and freshly sliced apple at the last minute.

Rich and delicious – brilliant with a bit of Chenin Blanc too

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Porcini Risotto, Parmesan Crisps and Poor Man’s Caviar.

Porcini Risotto

There’s a global recession on people! Well, except in the US, Canada, and the BRIC countries. They’re just experiencing moderate growth.

But in Europe, there’s a recession on everyone! The UK is showing weak growth but….oh forget it.

Whatever the situation, ‘austerity’ is the current buzz word and to be honest, prior to a few  years ago I wasn’t really aware of the concept, other than as an adjective for the sort of person I generally tried to avoid at parties.

For some this is an inevitable consequence of genuine hardship, for others (and maybe I’m being a little cynical here) the latest trend, dare I say. But either way I think it’s having a cooling effect and in terms of food it’s opened up new avenues. And this is a food website after all.

People are baking again, cheaper cuts of meat – the best cuts in my opinion – are popular once more and in this country I think concepts of provenance and ‘proper’ cooking are now desirable. May I also refer you to my previous rant on chips. Good.

So tonight, ladies and gentlemen it’s caviar, only it’s the far more austere lumpfish caviar. Retailing at the more sensible price of around £40/kilo, it’s less than half the price of salmon caviar, and some 100 times less than the dangerously scarce Beluga caviar (which I have sampled and I can confirm is delicious). Still pricy of course, but then a little goes a long way.

As you may have guessed by the title I made it to accompany a porcini mushroom risotto and because, I like the texture, some parmesan crisps. It all worked nicely with a little scoop of ricotta that I had in the fridge.

If each serving was more than a £1.50, I’d be surprised. I’m keeping the belt tightened over here….

Serves two:

  • 160g good risotto rice
  • 100g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 3 shallots, finely sliced
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 small celery sticks, diced
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 glass white vermouth
  • 700ml vegetable stock
  • 100g parmesan (with extra to serve)
  • Dried oregano
  • 2 heaped tsp lumpfish caviar
  • 2 tbsp ricotto cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chives to serve

Start by soaking the mushrooms in the hot stock for 30 mins prior to cooking. Once ready, remove them and squeeze some of the liquid out with a sieve. Set aside until later.

In a heavy pan, fry off the shallots, celery and garlic until soft. Stir in the rice and butter and coat well. Add the vermouth and stir well (some of the rice starch will start to come out – this is good). Heat the stock back up in a small pan and leave on a low heat to keep hot.

Using a ladle, add a little stock and stir well until it’s nearly gone, then add another. Keeping ladling and stirring until all the rice is cooked but retains a bit of a ‘bite’. Soggy risotto is bad risotto. Towards the end add the parmesan and mushrooms. Taste and season. There should be a creamy sauce in the risotto, it shouldn’t be dry. Add a little water and a bit more seasoning if it is.

Risotto cooking

Meanwhile, make the parmesan crisps my forming mounds of grated grated parmesan with the oregano and black pepper. Grill until browned and flat. Remove from the heat and cool thoroughly. They should be nice and crisp.

Parmesan crisps

Serve the risotto in bowls with the crisps, chopped chives. Spoon on a tbsp of ricotta and a heaped tsp lumpfish caviar per person. Dust with a little more cheese and black pepper.

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