JAPANESE BRAISED STICKY PORK BELLY WITH EGG NOODLES INSPIRED BY MILLI TAYLOR

Milli is a phenomenal chef. There's no two ways around it. I am a chef myself, and perhaps it doesn't seem prudent to so blatantly promote the services of another but I can't help it. I will apologise to my accountant later, but I am a big believer in "Shine Theory" and I want to shout about Milli and her amazing food.

Of course one can train to be a chef, as lots of people do. And there are many ways to learn to cook. You can go to cookery school, you can work your way up through the ranks of the kitchen, you can learn from your grandmother's elbow standing on a stool at the stove. You can even grow to like it if at first you don't. But here's the thing, I don't think you can ever learn to love it. That's something that you are born with.

The first head chef I trained under told me something that stuck with me. You can never be a great chef if you don't love to eat. Yes, you can be a good cook. You can be moderately interested in food and be really quite good in the kitchen. But to be up there, you have to live and breathe food. You have to love it in a way that stretches beyond just thinking of it as a necessity or something that's "quite fun to do". You have to think about food in a way that borders on obsession; the delicious and never ending kind. 

Milli is one of those people that was born with cooking running through her veins. She knows good food and her passion for cooking comes out in her dishes. Honestly, I'm sorry to harp on about it, but this isn't something you can learn and I think that's what makes someone like Milli so exciting.

During her episode Milli talked about a Japanese braised pork belly dish that stuck out to me as a star Desert Island Dish. We chatted about the wonder of slow cooking meat. It's so easy, requires zero skill, and yet people are always completely, disproportionately impressed and astounded by the results. Slow cooking a shoulder of lamb for instance, could not be easier (drizzle of olive oil, lots of salt and pepper, garlic and rosemary and cook for 4 hours at 170C) and yet people look at you with wonder in their eyes like maybe you are not of this earth. Honestly, try it, and you will see. I do it too. I go to someone's house and eat some meat they've been slow cooking and I latch on them in a way I haven't previously. So for impressive meat that melts in the mouth with no effort from you, the secret is low and slow.

I love pork belly and normally I always slow cook it in the oven where you end up with crispy crackling. The idea of poaching it in a sticky liquor sounded delicious and with Japanese spices too, I couldn't wait to get experimenting. I would say that if you are worried about calories or about your weight, pork belly may not be the one for you. It is quite fatty but that's part of the fun, and trust me this is so delicious, it is worth every single calorie. My fianceé said this was one of the best things I've made him which is high praise indeed. Or perhaps that sounds big headed like I have made him loads of amazing things, but the truth is you guys...I have.

Serves 4

First stage:

1 kg pork belly with the skin on

1 tbsp olive oil

4 spring onions, roughly chopped in half

a thumb of ginger, peeled, and roughly chopped

1/2 red chilli, roughly chopped

Second stage:

750ml (1 1/2 pints) chicken stock 

100ml (1/3 cup) soy sauce

60ml (1/4 cup) mirin 

2 tbsp soft brown sugar

5 cm peeled and grated ginger

To serve:

Steamed / fried  pak choi

Egg noodles: 1 nest per person

sprinkling of sesame seeds, sliced red chilli and spring onion

Method

Heat the oil in a frying pan and once it's nice and hot, place the whole pork belly in the pan skin side down. Once deliciously golden, turn it over and sear on the other sides too. The idea is just to get a lovely colour, but you aren't focusing on cooking the meat at all.

Put the seared pork belly, still whole, into a heavy bottomed pan with a lid. Cover with water and add the spring onion, ginger and red chilli. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer with the lid on for about 2 hours. During this time skim off any fat that floats to the surface. This bit is kind of gross, but just think, that's fat you won't be gobbling.

Remove the pork belly from the liquid and leave to cool enough for you to chop it up, into roughly 2 inch chunks.

Clean the pan and pop the chopped pork belly into it. Add the stock, the mirin and the sugar and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the pork is meltingly tender. Add half off the soy sauce and if the sauce is looking too liquidy, turn the heat up to encourage it to reduce. Be careful it doesn't reduce too much or it will be too salty. Just keep tasting. 

It's obviously also delicious served straight away served with the cooked egg noodles and pak choi. Sprinkle over some fresh chopped chilli, some spring onions and sesame seeds et voila. Or as the Japanese would say..."ita daki mas".

All of which makes this a fab dinner party dish, as it's insanely delicious and can be made a day ahead. For a hassle free dinner party you could make this the day before and then leave to cool in the fridge overnight. Then rewarm it gently the next day when you are ready for it. Easy breezy.

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