The Fat Duck: Pot-Roast Loin of Pork, Braised Belly, Gratin of Truffled Macaroni

I will kick this off by saying that this is every bit as delicious and as satisfying as it looks. It’s a great comforting combination of a cured piece of pork belly, a perfect impeccably cooked portion of loin, tart cabbage cooked with onions and bacon, seared marinated mushrooms and a rich flavor-packed pork sauce to round it all off. Did I mention that all of this goes with a side casserole of truffle-flavored cheesy macaroni? There is nothing here that does not hit a perfect note. The inspiration of this dish according to the recipe intro is Heston Blumenthal’s love of the cast iron pan called cocotte  that he uses to cook meat over an open fire while camping. Now, at a fine dining establishment like the Fat Duck where consistency and efficiency are paramount using a cast iron pan is not the most efficient way of cooking the “Pot-Roasted” loin of pork. The title of the recipe is meant to invoke a nostalgia of the cast iron pot-roasting even though the meat is perfectly cooked sous vide.

I started working on the dish by preparing the pork belly and the pork sauce. The belly was cured in a brine of salt, nitrite salt, water, lots of herbs, lemons zest, juniper berries, allspice, cloves, coriander and star anise. After sitting in the brine for 48 hours, I soaked the belly in several changes of fresh water. Then I bagged it with some water and cooked it sous vide for 36 hours. After it is cooked and cooled I skinned it and trimmed all but a thin layer of surface fat and divided it into several perfect cubes that got bagged individually in FoodSaver pouches. The pork belly pieces were frozen until service day. At that time, I warmed up the pouches in water to loosen the pork belly and then removed them from the bags and seared them gently on the fat layer until they got brown and crispy.

For the sauce, I sautéed pork bones, pork meat, onions and carrots  in a mixture of oil and butter. These then went into a pressure cooker along with chicken stock, water and some herbs and cooked at full pressure for a couple of hours. The stock is then cooled, strained and reduced to a sauce consistency. Right before service, I heated it with a few sage leaves and whisked in a little butter.

Preparing the pork loin was a bit similar to the belly process. The loin, on the bone, is poked at several places and stuffed with sage and garlic. It is then salted heavily and left to cure with lemon zest and a lot of thyme for 48 hours. Then I washed the salt off and soaked it in a few changes of water. I removed the bone and wrapped the meat into a tight cylinder in plastic wrap. That went into a FoodSaver bag and was cooked at 60 C before serving.

Two other items actually go on the plate with the pork: sautéed cabbage and mushrooms. To make the cabbage, I first made the “Choucroute Onions”. That’s basically a very flavorful mixture of onions, bacon, juniper, allspice, white wine and vinegar. At dinner time, I cooked thinly sliced Savoy cabbage in some butter. When the cabbage was tender, I tossed in the Choucroute Onions. The mixture of cabbage and tart bacon-y onions is delicious. It’s kind of like a mild buttery sauerkraut and is a very good use of cabbage. It’s a classic that goes perfectly well with the rich pork meat.

The recipe specifically asks for Porcini (or Cep) mushrooms to serve with the meat. I can never find those tasty but expensive mushrooms fresh anywhere, but I can find them dried and use them all the time. Instead of Porcini, I opted to use king trumpet mushrooms and large white button mushrooms. I marinated those by vacuum packing them with olive oil, thyme and a few pinches of pulverized dried Porcini  mushrooms. They marinated for several hours and then I patted them dry and cooked them with butter to a nice golden brown.

As opposed to most fine dining recipes where every dish is self-contained typically with all components on one plate or bowl, several recipes in The Fat Duck book include “side dishes”. A lamb dish is served with a sweetbread hot pot, a venison saddle has a beaker of clarified stock with it, sole is served with triple-cooked chips, and this pork dish gets a luscious side of truffled macaroni. Originally, Blumenthal instructs the cook to boil zita macaroni (long tubes) and then cut them into 1 cm cylinders. Instead, I decided to make my own pasta. So, following the Marc Vetri process that I posted about recently, using semolina and water I made the dough and extruded it using the rigatoni plate on the machine. I cut the pasta much shorter than typical rigatoni as it was being extruded to mimic the short zita that the recipe asks for. After the pasta is cooked it gets tossed in a mixture of cream, stock, and Parmesan cheese. The recipe asks for truffle juice to be added in as well, but I skipped that pricey item and seasoned the mixture with excellent Italian white truffle salt. To finish the pasta, I plated it in small individual casseroles and topped it each one with a few tablespoon of an egg and cream mixture. The casseroles then get broiled to brown the surface a bit and are good to go.

To plate, I put a small pile of the cabbage and flanked it with both types of meat. A couple of mushrooms go in the center and the sauce is poured gently around and over the meat. We each got a small casserole of the macaroni on the side and enjoyed this complex and tasty plate of food.

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The Fat Duck: Beef Royal (1723), Course 3

In addition to working on making a proper one-spoon quenelle (or rocher), I really need to work on applying a proper sauce “drag”. The elongated teardrop shape on a plate looks simple, but it is tricky. More practice is needed to apply that properly. On to this dish. I really liked the short rib preparation from course #2, but I absolutely loved this one. It is one of the best steaks I have ever cooked. I am sure that is partially due to the dry aged rib eye steaks I bought from Pete’s Fine Meats, but also the preparation was spot on delicious.

In the continuation to Blumenthal’s take on the Beef Royal dish, he prepares a steak coated with a crust made from a combination of beef crackers, panko bread crumbs, crispy short rib strands and herbs. Then he serves it with a mushroom ketchup, onion sauce, reduced beef sauce, mushrooms and fried crispy bone marrow. The combination is classic and brilliantly interpreted.

The most time-consuming part of this whole process is making the coating for the beef, the Chef calls it “Beef Shreds”. First, I made a beef cracker using Tapioca starch. The idea for these crackers is to mix a flavorful base (in this case, ground beef, seasoning and beef sauce base from the original preparation) with Tapioca starch to make a dough. The dough is then steamed till cooked and cooled. Then it is sliced and dried for a couple of hours. The last step is to fry it.

Below are pictures of the beef cracker dough…mmmm…

Dried crackers…

 …and Fried crackers. These are crispy, spicy and tasty. I wish I saved some before pulverizing them.

The end result is not unlike pork cracklings or chicharones. This can be done with cheese instead of beef, click here for a version from the  Alinea cookbook prepared by Martin at Alineaphile. It can also be done with vegetables to get vegetable puffs or crackers, click here to see what Dave at EatFoo prepared with it.

The next step in preparing the shards is to crisp up pieces from the short ribs from course #2 (I still had one in the freezer saved for this recipe) and to shred it finely. That is mixed with toasted panko bread crumbs, the beef crackers from above and finely minced herbs.

For the mushroom ketchup, I used my food processor to finely mince brown mushrooms with salt. These were then allowed to drain through a cheese cloth over night. I got way more liquid than I expected. The mushrooms are squeezed to extract all the liquid and tossed away. The mushroom juice is heated briefly and set to a fluid gel with Gellan F. It is seasoned with vinegar, sugar and salt. The onion sauce is also a fluid gel made with a mixture of sautéed onions, milk, cream, thyme and then strained. The resulting sauce is set with Gellan F to get a wonderful smooth puree. This onion sauce was excellent, I ate the rest of it with a spoon after plating the dish.

To prepare the marrow from the bones I first brined the bones for 24 hours then soaked them in fresh water for 30 minutes. The marrow slid right out. I cut those into small cubes, coated them with egg wash and then dredged in a mixture of untoasted panko bread crumbs and beef cracker crumbles. I held these in the fridge for a few hours until ready to fry. Right before service they were fried for a few seconds. Marrow is a lovely and luxurious product. Some love it, some hate it. I love it in small doses. It is mostly fat and is best served in small quantities. The taste is basically like beef-flavored butter. Crispy and fried, these nuggets are a tasty snack, but I had to stop after four or five. With the dish though, the fried marrow worked very well.

The mushrooms were just sautéed in a little grapeseed oil and then tossed with some of the mushroom ketchup. I still have a good bit of that ketchup and I wonder how long it lasts. It’s savory and tart, sort of like a refined and subtle barbeque sauce.

The star of the dish is the beef. The specific cut Blumenthal uses is the Spinalis Dorsi. That is the rib eye cap, a very tender, very well marbled piece of superb beef. It combined the tenderness of a filet mignon with the full flavor and richness of a rib eye. To get a whole one, you will need to buy a big piece of prime rib, preferably from the center (ribs 2 to 7) and remove the cap on your own. That is damn expensive and, unless you are cooking for a crowd, a bit more than you need. What I did is remove the Spinalis Dorsi portion of the steaks I bought after cooking and trimmed them as needed. I also used a square piece of the eye of the rib to make a more substantial meal. The rest was sliced and went into tacos for the kids.

Below is a picture of the two steaks with the Spinalis portion outlined in red

I prepared the steaks by salting them well about 18 hours ahead of time and then rinsing and drying them. I cooked them en sous vide at 132 F for about 2 hours. In the book, Blumenthal does not sear the steaks after cooking, but I did, in a very hot cast iron pan for about 40 seconds per side to develop more flavor. After trimming the Spinalis and a good size cube of the beef, I coated them with reduced beef sauce base and covered the surface with the beef shreds mixture. More beef sauce was drizzled on the steaks in the plate after they were served with the onion sauce, mushroom ketchup, mushrooms and fried bone marrow.

The Fat Duck: Beef Royal (1723), Course 2

Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck restaurant outside of London is one of the most creative and sometimes really “out there” chefs today. He explores cuisine from every perspective and sense. Taste is paramount, but it’s not just about taste, it’s about an experience. Every sense is explored, he of course controls the look of the dish as well as the taste and smell. He goes a few steps past that and spends time studying how the brain works and how one might perceive a dish. How would a diner react to two jellies, one red and one orange/yellow, when told these are beet and orange jellies? Of course the diner immediately assumes that the red is the beet and the yellow is the orange. So, he will be momentarily confused when tasting orange when expecting beets! The Fat Duck book is a fascinating read -if you are interested in this sort of thing- and gives us a clear path into the mind of Blumenthal and how The Fat Duck came to be a Michelin 3-star restaurant. Every recipe has a thorough introduction delving into it’s science, inspiration and what the chef attempted to get out of it. Most recipes are very involved and require special ingredients but I intend to try more as time permits. Just like the Alinea book or The French Laundry, cooking from The Fat Duck is a learning experience. How about cooking every recipe from the book? Well it’s nuts, but someone is trying to do it in this excellent blog from the Netherlands. Good luck to him.

Certainly there are more “creative” recipes than what I chose to make first, after all this is a traditional beef in red wine sauce recipe. What really caught my attention with this recipe first was the picture. It looks stunning (like all the pictures in the book) and certainly better than the ones I took. More than the picture was the story behind the dish. Blumenthal is fascinated by old British recipes and he attempts to formulate many such recipes to fit in on the Fat Duck menu. This dish is based on a  recipe published on 1723 and a version of it was served at the coronation of James II. Blumenthal made a three course dish of Beef Royal, the first involved fried sweetbreads and oysters, the third consists of a piece of steak with marrow and mushrooms. For this post I made the second “course”, a short rib with red wine sauce, cipollini onions and turnips. The sauce is made specials with the inclusion f diced ox tongue, anchovies and gherkins.

First thing I did was the ox tongue. It is brined in a spicy salt brine and then cooked sous vide for 48 hours. I then peeled it and reserved it in the freezer till service time. The sauce was next. It’s labeled as “Beef Sauce Base” in the recipe and it’s made from roasted ox tail, beef bones and stew meet. These are all browned and cooked gently in red wine and water. The end result is a rich and beefy sauce.

For the short ribs, I let them cure in salt for a few hours. Then the ribs are seared until nicely browned. To cook them, I vacuum packed them and cooked them sous vide at 133F for 72 hours. The long cooking time makes the tough short rib meat as tender as a rib eye steak, while at the same time cooking them rare. These are not typical pot roast-like and falling apart short ribs. They need to be eaten with a knife and fork, again like a well-marbled  steak. Once out of the vacuum bags, the bone is removed and cleaned from any gristle or scum. At service time, two pieces of rib are plated with a bone in between them. Kinda Flintstonian.

Two vegetables accompany this dish. Cipollini onions confited in olive oil sous vide. These took significantly more than the 10 minutes recommended. They cooked in more like 45 minutes at 195 F, which is more like what I would expect. The other are turnips poached and cooked in a butter and water emulsion (beurre monte) until tender.

The sauce is reduced to a nice glaze and garnished with gherkins, chopped anchovies, dice of ox tongue, chopped tarragon, chives and parsley. The dish is fantastic and decadent. It is deliciously beefy, refined and old-fashioned. Both the brine and the red wine sauce had start anise which at first got me a bit worried. I did  not want to have a strong licorice flavor in there. Blumenthal likes to use it in many meat dishes because it somehow enhances the meat flavor and, when used judiciously, does not mask the flavor of the meat. I am glad I followed his advise.