When I was very young the house next door to us was sold and we had high levels of anticipation as to who would be our new neighbours.
One day they arrived. And it wasn’t a subtle arrival either. They were a family of six children, three boys and three girls. They were very loud and liked to yell and scream or hop on their dirt bikes and tear up the backyard. Their father was a bricklayer and he employed a lot of large, tattooed Maoris and after work it was, ‘everyone back to my place’ where they immersed themselves in swearing, cigarettes and long-neck bottles of beer.
They kept chickens but also a rooster and housed them in the garage. They started a breeding program and when they thought the chicks were ready to hatch they took the eggs from the nests and put them in the warmer drawer of their oven. None of the chicks survived.
The father and his employees set about transforming the house and this involved covering the entire property in either bricks, concrete or tiles. He liked to dye the concrete different colours and so the path from the laundry to the clothes line was concreted in green and white swirls.
When the last bit of brick, tile and concrete had been laid he brought his workers around one Saturday and they started digging in the only remaining patch of green, an enormous hole. I was very excited because I was sure they was putting in a swimming pool. But the huge hole wasn’t for a pool, it was for an underground oven – a Maori Hangi.
When they were satisfied that the hole was big enough and deep enough they heated stones until they were red hot then put them at the bottom of the pit. Then they lowered a wire basket containing an assortment of food including pork, chicken, lamb and root vegetables. They covered the food with a damp cloth then covered the hole with soil. The cooking process went on all day. In the evening they had a big party. The soil was dug up again and the cloth removed then the wire basket brought up and they feasted on this slow cooked food.
Although I wasn’t invited to this party I have had food from a Hangi and it was a long time ago. I remember I didn’t like it because I thought the food had a soil or dirt flavour to it.
A few days later they filled in their hole in the ground, put the house on the market and moved on.
We didn’t see them again but I did hear the father went to prison for a few days for using obscene language in front of a police officer.
Meat from a Hangi is apparently wonderful because it is steamed and slow cooked until it becomes really tender. If you like tender meat that falls off the bone but do not feel like digging an enormous pit in your backyard, then Bill Granger’s slow roasted pork belly is an excellent substitute.
Crispy Pork Belly with Caramel Vinegar
Degree of Difficulty: 3/5- because of all the carry-on with pulling this in and out of the oven – but very worth it!
Cost: I think pork belly is a fantastic cut of meat but I’m keeping it on the down-low because if word spreads, this economical cut of meat will shoot up in price just like what’s happened to the humble lamb shank.
- 1.5kg boned pork belly with skin
- 1 tbs olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
- 1/2 cup (100ml) firmly packed brown sugar
- 1/3 cup (80ml) red wine vinegar
- 2 star anise
- 1 cinnamon quill
- 1 cup (250ml) chicken stock
- 4 strips pared rind and juice of 1 orange
- steamed rice and bok choy to serve
- 1 long red chilli, seeds removed, thinly sliced
Score the pork skin in a criss-cross pattern with a sharp knife. Rub 2 tbs sea salt into skin Set aside for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 220C and drizzle a large roasting pan with oil. Wipe salt off the pork with paper towel and dry well. Place pork in the pan skin-side down, drizzle with a little oil and season. Roast for 30 mins, then reduce oven to 190C and roast for another 1 hour. Loosely cover with foil and roast for a further 30 minutes until pork is tender. Remove foil and carefully turn meat, then return to oven for a further 20 minutes or until skin is crisp. Remove, cover loosely with foil and leave to rest for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the sugar, vinegar and spices in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves, then increase heat to medium-high and bring to the boil. Simmer oven medium-low heat for 7-8 minutes until syrupy, then stir in stock and simmer for 5 minutes until slightly reduced. Add orange juice and rind, then simmer for 15 minutes or until thick and syrupy. Season to taste. (I find this only yields a miserable amount of caramel vinegar so I make double quantity).
Slice the pork and serve on rice and bok choy. Drizzle with some of the caramel vinegar and garnish with chilli.
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