Belly Pork for the Belly’s Soul

Supermarket meat is so desperately limited. Our worlds are firmly shrink-wrapped and hermetically sealed. There is no soul available. Refrigerated shelving is lit with a special type of light that improves the look of red meat and gives white that irridescent glow, shimmering under the polyethylene. Every boxed item looks no better or worse than the next. How to choose between ‘lean pork escalopes’, ‘lamb chops’ or ‘frying steaks’? None inspire freedom of expression in cooking, with their neat little portions and the reduction in fat might make us healthier, but only in one area. What about how much protein we eat? What about our wallets? Those squiddly little ‘lamb chops’ could be as much as £15 per kg, but how many of us look at the wholesale price?

How do we work out how much we really need? Is 500g beef mince excessive? How come you hardly ever get 500g lamb mince? Can you even buy belly pork at the Co-op? Rich, full of fat and flavour, and usually attached to its skin, it’s perhaps a little too rustic for some. But oh… the flavour. And as far as soul counts, flavour is everything.

Every question above can be answered by a butcher. Torn between wanting to sell you as much as your purse can handle and giving you good advice, butchers (who are a breed unto their own in this neck of the woods) are useful sounding boards. The best advice can be listened to; but it doesn’t have to be taken. We all need to work things out for ourselves. Try putting half of the 500g mince into the freezer and bulking out the spaghetti bolognese with mushrooms, onions, peppers and the dreaded courgettes. Chop them up tiny if you have people who ‘don’t eat vegetables’ and unless they are children, they’re unlikely to notice (and it’s impossible for all but the most stubborn to sit there picking them out). Maybe that’s unethical, but courgettes and mushrooms just meld into nothing in a crock pot and is there anyone out there who doesn’t like peppers?

This week’s buy was two strips of belly pork from Steadman’s Butchers on Kirkby Stephen’s Market Street. £2.35 or thereabouts. Quite a steep price, but the meal was worth it.

Note: in future efforts, Magpie would remove the skin before cooking this stew.

Chop/cut/scissor the belly pork into even-sized pieces and fry, skinside down in a couple of generous glugs of oil. Fry for ages; it can take it. It was hard not to create confit of belly pork in the oven and make the bean stew separately, but time was limited and creativity falls into the ditch under pressure.

Wang in roughly chopped peppers (1.5 in this case, but the more the merrier) and onions and garlic and a bay leaf if you have one and let the smells waft about the kitchen. Also a chilli. Or not. Keep stirring it about. Better still, use a non-stick saucepan (but still stir). When you can smell that the peppers are releasing their juices, dump in about a tablespoon of tomato puree. Stir it about, even as everything in the pan is threatening, sizzlingly, to stick. Add some chopped tomatoes (not a whole tin), a can of butter beans and a tablespoon of treacle.

Simmer until everything is cooked through and the belly pork is tender. Salt and pepper it.

Brown rice and briefly sauteed courgettes with singed garlic are perfect light accompaniments. Not much stew is needed to make a full belly and a fuller soul.