We tackle the final in the trinity of hated Waitrose recipes, Heston Blumenthal’s Slow Roasted Pork Belly recipe. And with a few tweaks it makes an easy, simple dish that sounds like perfect winter comfort food.
There’s three Heston Blumenthal Waitrose recipes that have received more ridicule and abuse than any other on their site.
First, there’s Heston’s Traditional Minced Beef and Dumplings recipe. Apart from the lack of mince and overpowering Asian flavours it’s a decent recipe, although not very traditional (read our attempt at it here, along with an excellent follow up report by John Lister). If you stick to the exact recipe and buy your groceries at Waitrose then the cost of making this humble dish is £32! – a staggering price that rightly draws criticism in the comments section.
Next: Heston’s Lemon Tart recipe. It needs a very accurate thermometer to get right (one of our thermometers in inaccurate, which is how we managed to balls it up). The vague directions of the original recipe left a lot of Waitrose fans fuming over sloppy, un-set tart fillings.
The final dish in this trio, also berated for its dodgy cooking temperatures, is Heston’s Slow Cooked Pork Belly recipe. With their ovens set to the recipe’s original 80°C loads of commenters found their food still raw!
We reckon that by using an actual slow cooker (well, our makeshift sous vide rig) we can avoid that problem, and still stay true to the essence of the recipe. This is one we’ve wanted to make for a while, and with the cold weather setting in we were hoping it’d make the perfect cold weather Heston Blumenthal comfort food recipe.
Special Equipment: Slow Cooker (optional)
Special Ingredients: Fresh chicken stock
Time: 10 hours
Step 1: Brine the Pork (Optional)
Entirely optional, but we’ve made Heston Blumenthal Pork Belly recipes before and the brining was a crucial part.
No dozen ingredients plus boiling and cooling, just a simple 6% solution of salt and tap water. Please remember to rinse it well for about 1 – 2 hours afterwards.
Before you start this bit make sure to remove the skin from the pork belly (you’ll need a VERY sharp knife if you have to do it at home). Once it’s off cover it liberally with salt and leave it in the fridge. This is going to make our cheats pork crackling recipe later on.
Step 2: Veg
Chop some veg. I’m fairly certain you all know how to do this.
Step 3: Slow Cook
Now tip your rinsed belly, chopped veg and stock into a slow cooker. Turn it on and set it going for the next 9 hours. In our case we’ve dumped the lot into our sous vide rig and set it to 82°C.
(Note: Pork belly is best cooked at 60 – 65°C, but the root veg will need higher, and Heston’s recipe suggests a full 95°C. We picked 82°C as a compromise temperature).
Alternatively follow the recipe’s exact guidelines and put this in a casserole dish in the oven, set to that 95°C temperature Heston likes.
About an hour before finishing (which ended up being around 2 hours before serving) add half a bunch of fresh sage. Heston recommends rolling the leaves before adding them, which helps to release the oils and fragrance into the sauce.
Step 4: Gravy
Strain the veg and remove the pork belly. Then just pop the gravy in a pan and reduce to a sauce consistency.
Turning the stock into the kind of flavourful glaze we prefer these days took a long, long time. 50 minutes, in fact. Our pork and root mash were stone cold by the time the gravy was ready.
Step 5: Crackling
But, I pretend to hear you all ask, where’s the crackling?
Well, we’re using a cheats pork crackling recipe that was actually recommended by Heston Blumenthal himself in a Times article a few years back (I can’t get behind the paywall, but I’ve a local copy saved somewhere if you all need proof).
Just pop it into the microwave for about 2 minutes and you’ll have crackling. I put our first piece under an upturned mixing bowl to avoid fat splatter (and the resulting forearm contortions that cleaning the inside of the microwave always involves).
Step 6: Root Mash
I really don’t think you guys need me to give you any instructions on how to mash things. But here’s a photo for some of your slower friends (plus I took the pic so we might as well use it).
Step 7: Finish and Serve
We’re not finished yet I’m afraid! One last step, fry the pork belly skin-side down to crisp up the fat.
Grab your crackling, and ideally your side veg (we’re having cabbage cooked the same way we make Heston’s Brussels Sprouts recipe) and then start serving up.
And there you have it, Heston’s Slow Roasted Pork Belly recipe from Waitrose, done.
Pork – Tough and dry.
Root Mash – Undercooked.
Gravy – Sticky and rich, but too sweet from all that parsnip.
It’s recipes like this that make me wish we hadn’t embarked upon this foolish quest. And that’s because of all the things we’ve learned of the course of making this blog.
Not because we hated this dish – it was fine- but because all the kitchen learning we’ve done over the years. In this case the things we’ve learned about cooking temperatures.
You see, sous vide recipes for pork belly usually specify temperatures around 65°C. Above that heat the proteins contract, squeezing out moisture and making the meat dry and tough. (This is the kind of thing that ruins turkey breast meat, for example).
Root vegetables on the other hand are tough, fibrous things that need a high temperature to break down. The sous vide supreme website suggests 85°C as a minimum. Chefsteps go to an even higher 90°C.
This recipe is taking two things that are utterly incompatible and trying to cook them together at the same temperature.
Our compromise cooking temperature wasn’t enough to break down the roots. So the mash had a tough, grainy consistency (despite being zinged through the microwave to break it down a bit more).
But that 82°C was enough to make the pork belly stringy and dry. In fact, any moisture we’d have retained through brining was driven straight out of this meat by “overcooking”.
Incidentally the microwaved pork crackling was indelibly rock solid, with a greasy sheen. Not something we’re in a hurry to repeat.
Thing is, if we hadn’t been doing all this Heston crap over the past few years we probably wouldn’t have noticed.
We’re kinda gutted. We’d really hoped the combo of winter veg and pork belly would be as warm and as comforting as Saul Berenson’s beard. It’s still an easy recipe to make, do it in the oven at Heston’s 95°, swap the belly for diced shoulder and the results would be ok.
But, for us, a little knowledge really can be a curse.
Supposing we were gonna make this again we’d have to cook all the different elements separately.
Pork belly we’d obviously sous vide. Roots we’d likely roast while making a separate gravy in the pressure cooker using a bit of extra veg. Oh, and a bit less parsnip too.
Have you made this recipe, or do you have a favourite Heston Blumenthal comfort food recipe? Please let us know in the comments section…