For the love of cooking – Donald Russell

IT’S been a while. With all the events, restaurant openings and dinners out, time in the kitchen has been quite scarce.  It came to the point where it was getting very frustrating. It’s been a while that I haven’t taken the time to cook, to enjoy the pleasure of mixing ingredients, and enjoy the whole culinary creative process.

I claim to be a food blogger but how can I justify this statement if I don’t take the time to be in communion with the natural elements that compose a dish. Meat, fish, vegetables, dairies, spices, there is so much to learn and so much to investigate.

Since having started my blog, I’ve also started to develop a lot of respect and, hopefully, a discerning taste for good ingredients.  Fresh, in season, well cultivated or prepared; a great ingredient over a standard ingredient can be exactly the catalyst one needs to make that simple dish exceptional.

Where before I would have had little qualms of buying my ingredients at the closest supermarket for a big meal, I now place a great deal of importance into how much better a meal can become  when every component lives up to what my recipe deserves.

Finding and choosing these perfect ingredients can be quite an laborious and time-consuming activity, though: all ingredients can be found in hundreds of varieties and varying qualities, all at different markets and stalls across the city. If you’re not sure where to find what you’re looking for, the process of finding your ingredients can easily take as long as the time you’ll spend in the kitchen.

Wonderful world of the digital era… Being among those people who need human contact in order to feel at ease with the people I work and socialise with, I rarely order ingredients online…even though I have to admit that the range of choices for any ingredient for any type of cuisine is quite amazing….

Call me old-fashioned but there is nothing more rewarding than a smile or a simple ‘Hello’ in life and….

Just recently, I was given the opportunity to taste some meat from Donald Russell and experience their delivery process and customer service. I have to say that the whole process went extremely smoothly. The team really made an effort to present the meat as if you were receiving a gift. It wasn’t Christmas but it looked like it and it made the meat even more appealing.

Some people would wonder about the reasons of being so enthusiast about a piece of meat. I understand that it may not be the most exciting thing in life but what we shouldn’t forget is the hard word that this piece of meat represents and all the people behind it. Of course, it is easy to go to the closest supermarket to buy meat for a meal. But to find tasty, tender and quality meat that have been prepared with care and love is another story.

I discovered that the founder of Donald Russell, John Stone, co-wrote The Meat Buyers’ Guide, a classic text for butchers which established industry-wide standards for cutting, and helped earn him an MBE for services to the meat industry. You don’t joke with meat!

The main rule that we stand by for sourcing is that we never compromise on quality. This can only be done by investing our passion and expertise into every single item of food that leaves our butchers floor. It is important that the animal must have good conformation (an even fat covering) and excellent marbling. Most modern meat suppliers simply do not allow their meat to mature, so it becomes tough and flavourless when cooked. We use traditional methods to mature our beef and lamb for up to 21 days, allowing time for the rich flavours to develop and for the meat to become incredibly tender.” Gary McDonald – Donald Russell

When you meet liked-minded people so passionate about their meat, it’s like time has stopped and nothing else matters anymore. But it will always come the time when enjoying a good piece of meat will be more important than talking about it!

Asian Confit of Pork Belly – Courtesy of Garlic Confit
For the confit

1.7 kg piece of Pork Belly
Goose Fat or Olive oil (as much as you need to cover, Approx 1kg)
1tsp Sechuan Peppercorns
4 Star Anise
1 tablespoon Five Spice Powder
1 tablespoon sea salt

For the sauce
1 Red Chili (as hot as you like)
2 inches of Ginger
1 Clove of Garlic
1/2 a Cup of Sake
3 tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 tablespoon Sesame oil
1 tablespoon Fish Sauce
1 Star Anise
Sechuan Peppercorns
5 tablespoons Sugar
5 tablespoons Water

The night before
Crush the sechuan peppercorns with the star anise add the five spice powder, then stir into the salt. Rub the pork on both sides with the salt mixture. Pop the pork, skin up, in an oven dish that is just holds it. Leave overnight in the fridge.

When ready to use
Remove the pork from the fridge and discard any liquid that has gathered. Heat your oven to 150C. Warm through the goose fat till it is pourable (not necessary if you are using the olive oil) cover the belly pork with the fat and cover the dish. Place in the oven and cook for 3 1/2 hours.

Remove the pork from the oil and brush of any large chunks of spice. (At this point you can make the pork more presentable by placing it between to flat trays and placing a weight on it and leaving it the fridge for the night. Then when cold trim it to a perfect rectangle.)

When ready to cook the pork heat the oven to 220c and lightly score the skin of the pork and rub it with a little olive oil. Place the pork skin up in a dish and cook for about 20 minutes until it crisps up and the skin crackles (if it needs a bit longer pop the grill on high and finish off the skin that way)
While the pork is roasting make the caramel:
In a pan heat the sugar and water till it forms a caramel – 2-3 minutes
Grate the ginger and garlic. Chop the Chili. Crush the Star Anise and Peppercorns
When the Caramel is ready, whack up the heat and pour in the remaining ingredientsCook for about 4-5 until the sauce is thick.
Take out the pork and brush the sauce all over and return to the oven for 5 minutes before serving