Day 3 of my Spanish holiday. I visited the carniceria (butcher’s shop) yesterday in the nearby town of Colmenar, to see what meat they had so I could consider our options for dinner. The long line of Spanish grandmas at the counter were quite an intimidating presence but after a bit of assertive coughing I was finally served! I started with “Hola! No hablo espanol…” just so the guy knew what he was dealing with here, and on that everyone in the shop, about 10 or so people including the family behind the counter, turned to look on, expectantly amused. I already stood out, a 5 ft 10 in, very pregnant blonde in a crowd of small old Spanish ladies in tabards. And now they were waiting to see what this big English bird would order…
I was dreaming of skinny chuletas de cerdero (lamb chops) grilled and served simply with some cumin salt and a nice tomato salad, but I had surveyed the counter and saw, as ever, it was pork, some pork, and a bit more pork. Even though I knew I was onto a loser, I enquired in my best Queen’s English “Have you got any lamb?” I used to know the word for lamb, but in the heat of the moment, with everyone’s eyes on me, I collapsed, as you do. At that moment a man came in and everyone seemed pleased as they pushed him towards me “You English?” he asked, “I speak the English!” I explained that I initially wanted lamb but that it doesn’t matter now as I see they don’t have any. He translated this for me to the audience in the shop and they started helpfully pointing at all the delicious porcine options, motioning that I should forget about lamb and try the pork instead.
At that point I spotted a large piece of belly and made my decision. “Pork belly??”, I asked, pointing at my huge pregnant stomach. I also fancied a nice, big local free-range chicken. “Algo mas?” asked the man, “No” I said “pollo completos?” (which means whole chicken) “Ah, si!” he said, seemingly impressed and surprised after my wobbly start that I knew a little bit of Spanish at least. My translator had walked off by now, thinking that I was obviously quite capable without his services. The butcher came back with a large, plucked chicken, head on and all – but skinned, totally naked. I looked over at another lady who was going for chicken and hers was also skinned, it must be what they do around here. I wanted to say “My good man, in England we roast our chickens with skin on!” But I had a loss of confidence and said “Gracias”. At least I mustered up the courage to make the ‘cut the head off’ (or ‘you’re dead’, depending on how you interpret it) sign, which is clearly understood all over the world. He helpfully took off the head, leaving a long neck and pretty much everything else. Good job I’m not squeamish! I’ll deal with that beast tomorrow…
Anyway, back to the pork. I got it home and inspected it. A nice piece but a lot of fat, even more than usual. I scored it and salted it, rubbed the underside with a lot of cumin seeds, placed it on top of some thickly sliced onions and roasted it as high as the cooker would go for 1/2 hour, then turned it down for 2 more hours. In hindsight, it would have benefited from another hour, even more perhaps. It was tasty and the crackling crunchy too – but I like my pork belly falling to pieces and melting in the mouth, and I feel I took it out too early (it was getting late, and toddler had to eat). So below is what I recommend you do in terms of timing. I cooked some simple olive oil mash and a sauce made of a reduction of the pork juices, the onions in the pan, and some vermouth. It made for a sweet and sticky accompaniment that was just right.
By the way, please excuse my Spanish mistakes and translations here, I am relying on a mixture of my own shockingly poor Spanish and Google translator! Please feel free to correct!
Serves: 4 people
Large piece of pork belly (mine filled the roasting tin)
A few tablespoons of cumin seeds, whole
3 onions, skinned and thickly sliced horizontally into four pieces
Olive oil mash:
About 8 potatoes, floury ones
About 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
A few cloves of garlic
Sat and pepper
Roasting pan juices
A couple of glasses of vermouth or white wine
A little flour
- Preheat the oven as high as it will go, about 230C is great.
- Score your meat with a sharp knife in stripes, about an inch apart. Sprinkle liberally with sea salt on the skin side, and underneath press on your cumin seeds. Place on top of your onion bed and roast for 1/2 hour. Your skin should blister up into the most amazing crackling. I left mine a little too long, as you can see from the picture…
- Turn your oven down to about 150C, and leave to slow roast for at least 2, ideally 3 or even 3 1/2 hours – with that much fat you cannot overcook it. If you are worried about the skin burning you can place some foil over the top loosely. Let it rest for a good 1/2 hour after taking it out. Throw in the garlic cloves for the last 45 minutes.
- For the mash simply peel, boil, drain and mash the potatoes as usual, then squeeze some roasted garlic cloves into the mix, along with lots and lots of olive oil. Whip it all up and season.
- For the sauce, take out as much fat as you can by tipping the pan and using a metal spoon to remove the top layer of fat until there is a bit of fat left, but mainly dark roasting juices, as well as the onion and lots of cumin seeds. Put the roasting pan directly on the hob over a high heat and add the booze. Then once reduced, add a spoonful of flour and whisk it in to thicken. Let it cook, adding a splash of boiling water every now and then so it doesn’t over reduce. Sieve the sauce, squashing all the goodness from the onions, and reheat once needed if you are waiting for the pork to rest.