Failed Stamp

I had a disappointing experience recently that very nearly put me off cooking for good. Now I know that sounds a wee bit extreme but i should explain.

I am an absolute perfectionist. Failure is not an option. And in this case, failure (on a grand scale) is exactly what happened.

Crispy pork belly with crackling is one of my favourite dishes of all time. I love the saltness and tenderness of the pork with the delicious crispy texture of crackling and topped off with a tangy apple sauce. YUM!

I’ve always wondered how easy it would be to make. There are a lot of cooking shows on Food TV that make it seem as easy as cooking toast. I was pretty confident that i could make it no problem.

Pretty quickly I discovered that there were some issues with my decision to try and make it from scratch rather than picking it up pre made from the local roast place. First of all was my dislike for touching meat. The biggest problem was that my slab of pork belly had nipples. Therefore, it became a real animal rather than just an ingredient. And thus my enthusiasm for pork belly diminished rapidly.

Secondly, was my choice of recipe. Actually to be fair, it was my absolute inability to accurately follow directions. No fault of the recipe at all. One of the issues is that I don’t own a set of scales (If you’re shaking your head at this point, i don’t blame you). So usually I just guess how much something weighs and some times I get it close and some times it’s an unmitigated disaster. This was the latter.

Now, Jamie Oliver is a very talented man. I respect the guy a lot. Especially what he’s going with Schools and encouraging healthy eating. But i implore him to write a cookbook with a title like – ‘Pork Dishes for Dummies’ or even ‘Using a Gas Oven for Imbeciles’. It’s my own fault really. I believed in my abilities far too much. But I digress…

Once I had gotten over the initial horror that my pork belly had once been a sweet and happy little ‘Babe’ character, I went about following the recipe as best I could.

If you’ve ever tried to ‘score’ pork. It’s actually not that easy. You have to actually hold the meat and then slice into it and make nice deep, but not too deep, slices into the fat. I was too grossed out by the nipples and I had to get Man of the House to do this part. You have to then rub salt into your nicely cut gouges which should be easy right? Wrong. It turns out that if your knives are even slightly too blunt then making pork belly instantly becomes an exercise in futility.

Anyway, once the pork had been gouged and salted, it went into the oven to get all puffed up and delicious. Or so it was meant to. After half an hour in a hot oven, the crackling was meant to have started puffing up and looking edible. After close to an hour it wasn’t even close. Our old work horse of a gas oven just wasn’t getting hot enough and although it was cooking the pork through, the crackling was greasy and flat. I was started to get desperate, and more importantly, very hungry and very grouchy. Man of the House decided that there was a super easy solution to this, we just chuck it upside down on a hot skillet (fry pan, if you will). He’d seen someone do it on Food TV so again – piece of cake!

For someone who isn’t confident cooking meat to begin with, a huge deviation like changing the cooking method half way through is close to going out in public in your underwear. Mostly panic followed by the instinct to run.

As it turned out, that’s exactly what I should’ve done. After about 10 minutes it became blatantly obvious that the Food TV chefs knew something we didn’t. Half of the “crackling” burnt to a crisp and the outside edges stayed chewy, fatty and uncooked.

Now I’m really cranky. So we ended up turning the heat down and cooking it as best we could until it looked somewhat edible. In the midst of all of the pork drama, I had neglected by roast vegetables in the oven which were now lumps of coal at best and turned a head of crispy bok choy into a mushy, overcooked veggie nightmare.

I can only assume that all of comments from people saying how amazing their pork belly turned out, were contestants on Master Chef.

We ate in silence. Broken only by the snorts of derision watching a program on easy pork recipes. Back to what I know best – Baking.