Chateau Musar and a slow baked pork belly for Salamungundi
Today is the Welcombe Salamungundi, when the good people of Welcombe share a winter feast, everyone is invited to just turn up and bring some food and wine to share. Usually the table is laden with home made produce ranging from breads to desserts. The table is decorated with winter foliage, and everyone sits where they can. Usually there are some light hearted skits, stories and speeches, and soon enough the noise of happy conversation gets louder and louder.
This year I thought of slow braising a pork belly. To keep it moist during the long process of releasing the fats I made up a jus for the pork to sit in and let it reduce to a thick sauce over four to five hours in a low oven.
We have a bottle of Chateau Musar 2003, and its big old flavours should be a good tipple to go with the sweet seasoned meat.
Chateau Musar is a powerful,mature and rich red wine from the Bekaa Valley in the Lebanon. They have made a wine every year since the late 50’s continuing through wars, revolution and invasion. Many times the wine cellar has doubled as an air raid shelter. Gaston Hochar is the old man who creates this idiosyncratic wine, now supported by his two sons. The chateau is an 18th century castle with the vineyards stretching for some distance. It may be that the difficult transportation of the grape under a hot sun goes somewhere toward the raisiny flavour.
They have a very individual style of making wine. The red is fermented in concrete, then placed in vats for a year, transferred to new oak for a year then back to vats for several years. M. Hochar suggests about ten years are needed before it is ready for drinking. They use a selection of grapes usually a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsaut, Carignan, Grenache and Mourvedre. The wine is big, full of flavour, some years a bit too heavy, but always an interesting and exciting bottle, the colour is generally a deep aged red, closer to brown than purple. the flavour is dry, long and rich. I have been disappointed on more than one occasion but I still buy a bottle at least once a year and I like it that the Hochars refuse to change the operation for anyone.
For the Belly Pork I bought half a side of belly, making about 20 good tapas size cubes. It cost under £10. The first job is to cut out the ribs, it isn’t a hard job, just use a sharp knife, you could discard them but they are delicious to gnaw on later and the marrow helps the sauce thicken naturally. Now score the flesh, for a dinner I would score diagonal slices about 1/2 inch apart and then straight cut a steak size portion each, but for these cubes I scored a grid pattern to facilitate cutting later. Then I poured boiling water from the kettle slowly over the fat. This serves two purposes, it defines the scoring, and helps crisp up the skin, I rubbed some seasalt over the flesh which also helps it to crisp. Then I made an asian style jus to braise the pork in, I find this keeps the meat moist and flavours the meat during cooking, and reduces to make a delicious sauce with the meat juices. I used 2/3 pint of apple juice with a spoon of fresh miso paste (you could use soy sauce), coriander powder, chinese pepper, cinnamon, some cloves and a little fresh ginger. put it in a large dish, put the spare ribs in and rested the belly pork on the top. I covered the whole thing with foil which I removed after 2 hours or so of cooking. This was enough time to help cook out the fats in the meat before the skin started to crisp. I cooked the dish for well over four hours in a low oven (100c). I kept checking to see how it was progressing, if the sauce was starting to boil dry I would add some more juice or water. The dish is done when the fat has run and the skin crisps. The meat should be layers of meat with the surrounding fat almost gone. The sauce will thicken itself to a delicious sticky sweet consistency, I took out the belly to let it rest and continued to reduce the jus until the ribs remained in a dark, sticky sauce.
After standing for fifteen minutes or so the meat had settled and congealed and was easier to serve. After cutting it into cubes I skewered it to aid serving. After arranging on the plate I poured off the fat in the pan and dribbled over the sauce giving each piece a dose of thick sweet, dark reduction.
I am really looking forward to see how people like it at the Salamungundi, and sharing the wine with my in-laws. I best get it all in the car.