slow roast chocolate and chilli pork

i made this for a party we had a while back, when it was seemingly quite a success. soft, juicy meat falling off the bone – you could practically eat it with a spoon – was piled onto floury baps and devoured pretty damn fast, from what i can remember.

i did make a few changes this time, the main one being that i cooked the meat uncovered as i wanted to get crackling. i must admit i was anticipating defeat – it’s hard to get crackling even when you whack the oven up high straight away, let alone when you leave the joint in the oven overnight.

for that is the secret of this pig’s success: it’s one of those slow roasts that requires practically no attention yet tastes absolutely amazing. the trick is to get a fatty piece of meat – i usually go for pork or lamb shoulder – on the bone, add some herbs and spices, and then cook in on very low temperature. i mean low: this cooked for some 15 hours at 100 degrees C. you turn the heat up to 230 for the last half an hour or so to finish off the crackling. but the majority of cooking is long and slow.

you could of course skip all the elaborate flavouring and go for something simple instead (maybe fennel seeds and bay) but i’d urge you to try the chilli/chocolate thing just once. you can’t taste the chocolate as such but, as with the christmas pudding from the last post, it definitely adds some background depth. i used the poncey 100 per cent cacao but you can just use the normal cocoa powder (with no sugar added, obviously).

feel free to play with the herbs and spices used – i used thyme because i had some in the fridge and i also chucked in some sage leaves in the roasting tin.

also, feel free to baste if you can remember. i did do it every now and again as i was at home that morning but i never too convinced it makes that much difference. i guess hot fat might help crisp up the crackling.

final word of advice, when you turn the heat up at the end, watch the skin so it doesn’t burn. i have ruined a piece of crackling in this way before, and there is nothing sadder than trying to eat a cremated bit of black pork skin, when you could be greasing your fingers and your chin and cracking your teeth with some lovely crackling instead.

for more than a dozen

3 ancho or other dried Mexican chilies, stemmed and seeded
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
12 cloves
5 in piece of cinnamon bark or stick
1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
6 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp salt
6 tbsp grated 100% cacao or just proper cocoa powder
olive oil
fresh thyme - a few sprigs
fresh sage - a few leaves (optional)

toast all the spices in a dry frying pan until fragrant. make sure they don't burn so watch them all the time. crush them using a pestle and mortar, then add the garlic and the chilli - size of mortar permitting. i put the spices in another bowl and crushed garlic, salt and thyme leaves separately. either way, mix it all together with the chocolate and enough olive oil to form a paste.

if you have time, rub the paste on the underside of the meat (i.e. not the skin) and leave in the fridge overnight for the flavours to penetrate the meat. if you haven't got time, it's not a big deal - it tastes pretty good anyway.

preheat the oven to 100 C. rub some of the paste taken from underneath the pork onto the skin itself, and rub a little more salt to ensure you get a decent crackling.

now put the pork in the oven, uncovered, skin down to start with, and leave to roast for, say, 3 hours. after that, take the roasting tin out of the oven, turn the pork over so it's now facing skin up, baste the skin with the fat from the tin, and leave to cook for another few hours. i would say 8-9 is probably a minimum and twice that long is fine. i cooked mine from 8 in the evening till 12 noon the next day.

in the last 30-45 minutes, turn the heat up to 230 C to crisp up the crackling.


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