Nigella Lawson's Norwegian Pork Ribs

Nigella plans to serve her Norwegian pork ribs from her BBC2 series, Cook, Eat, Repeat, on Christmas Eve, but they would make a truly sumptuous addition to any roast.

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Introduction

You are in for such a treat. This recipe has utterly changed the way I customarily cook pork belly now. In truth, I had come across this Norwegian pork rib roast before, as I spent quite a lot of time in Norway when I was a young child, but I had no idea then how it was cooked and had long since forgotten about it.

Actually, it is not just the cooking that is radically different, but also its preparation, and for this you will need to ask the butcher for pork belly on the bone – so far so unremarkable – and for them to saw through the bones in two lines lengthways, as if about to divide the pork into three equal, long strips; however, you do not want them to go so far, they just need to cut through the bones, but not deep into the meat. On serving, you simply and so easily cut the belly into chunky slabs of ribs. You also need them to score the rind, and if possible not in the customary narrow diamond pattern, but to make small squares: in other words, you want them to score the rind into lines 2cm apart both vertically and horizontally. Or, if you fancy a bit of light surgery later, you can do that bit yourself: it’ll be easy enough when you come to it, I promise. And I speak as the most cack-handed of cooks.

This is the cut of pork eaten on Christmas Eve in Norway; I plan to follow suit in London this year and, I rather think, for every year of grace I’m granted. There, it is generally seasoned with no more than salt and pepper; I have added garlic, juniper berries and dill, which keeps us in Nordic territory. But this cut has application far outside those borders: I’m thinking sage, shallots and English mustard powder; cumin, coriander, chilli and ginger; miso, soy and garlic; thyme, lemon and Dijon; even just a rich, red massage of gochujang, the Korean fermented red chilli paste, would be wonderful.

With dill and juniper berries scenting the meat for the roast, I have planned my menu around it. I’m not a starter person, but I do like a pre-drink, stomach-lining slice or two of the No-Knead Black Bread (p.305 of Cook, Eat, Repeat), spread with horseradish-spiked cream cheese and smoked salmon draped silkily on top. If you want a proper sit-down starter, you could serve the Beetroot, Rhubarb and Ginger Soup, seasonally substituting the rhubarb with cranberries (see the recipe intro on p.152). With these pork ribs themselves, you need do no more than the Pickled Red Cabbage (p.281), Scandi Cucumber Salad (p.283), the Roast Quinces (p.278), and some plain boiled or steamed potatoes with lots of butter, white pepper and dill, and quite possibly, even probably, the Fennel Gratin from p.214. It is a feast, but a simple one, celebrating what’s important and keeping seasonal stress at bay.

Of course, you could always lean across to Norway’s neighbour and serve the Swedish Jansson’s Temptation (p.275) alongside. And I cannot deny that the Root Vegetable Mash (p.206) would be glorious here, too. But either of these additions keep matters manageable: both of them can be made in advance.

It is not out of a desire to cut corners that I say this, but I do not want gravy here. This pork rib roast really doesn’t need it, and I’m not sure it suits it. I much prefer the softly lapping cream sauce from the Fennel Gratin or indeed from the Jansson’s Temptation, known in my house as Chip Gratin. You could also put a bowl of rhubarb sauce (the recipe for which is on p.135) on the table, and I rather favour a concoction comprising equal parts of redcurrant jelly and wholegrain mustard mixed together.

I reckon on a 3kg joint being enough, generously, for four to six good eaters, with essential leftovers. And just so you know, the 3kg piece I go for measures around 28 x 20–22cm (it won’t be a neat oblong), so the size of the roasting tin you have will also dictate how big a piece you can get.

One last thing: if the pork you get from the butcher is wrapped not in paper but plastic, remove it, and wrap in baking parchment before putting it into the fridge.

Serves 4–6 with leftovers

Ingredients

2.5–3kg bone-in belly pork, prepared as per instructions in recipe intro
3 fat cloves of garlic
3 x 15ml tbsp sea salt flakes (or 1½ x 15ml tablespoons fine sea salt)
1 tsp juniper berries
A large bunch (or 2 x 20g supermarket packets) of dill
2 onions
250ml hot water from a just-boiled kettle

Instructions

1. You need to take the pork out of the fridge about an hour before you cook it so factor that into your timetable, adding it to the 3 hours, give or take, that the pork will be in the oven. For now, unwrap it and lay it rind-side down on a large chopping board.

2. Peel the garlic cloves and drop them into the mortar part of a pestle and mortar, or into a bowl you can use with a stick blender. Add 2 tablespoons of the sea salt flakes (or 1 tablespoon of fine sea salt), the juniper berries and the stalks from your dill, and start either bashing, grinding and crushing or whizzing, as you prefer, until you have an aromatic green paste. It’s harder work with a pestle and mortar, but I adore making it this way: it makes my kitchen smell, rather invigoratingly, like a Nordic spa.

3. Take this mixture over to the pork, and where the butcher has sawn through the bones, you will have two long troughs to tuck the paste into. Run a knife through them if you need to open up the cut area a little more. Press the mixture evenly between them.

4. Push as many of the dill fronds into the paste as you can fit. Turn the pork rind side up. Rub the rind and sides of the pork with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sea salt flakes, (or 1½ teaspoons of fine sea salt).

5. Get out a large roasting tin – I use one measuring 34 x 37 x 5cm. Peel the onions, then cut each of them into 3 thick slices; you need these as a flavour platform, to prop up the pork. One end must be slightly higher than the other, so that any liquid pours off and doesn’t pool on the rind, so place the pork, rind-side up, on the onions, arranging the slices as you feel best achieves that.

6. Leave the pork in the tin for about 1 hour to lose its fridge chill and, when you’re not long off, heat the oven to 220.C/200.C Fan.

7. Pour the 250ml of just-boiled water into the roasting tin, cover the top tightly with foil, and cook in the hot oven for 45 minutes. It’s counter-intuitive, I know, but softening the rind now makes it crisp up unimaginably later.

8. When it’s had its 45 minutes, take the pork out of the oven and remove the foil; the rind should have softened and puffed up a little. Use a large sharp knife to define the squares on the rind, cutting a little deeper into the original scoring marks. Or if you didn’t get it done by the butcher, do your own scoring at this point, cutting the softened rind into 2cm squares; it’s a curiously pleasant sensation.

9. Turn the oven down to 170.C/150.C Fan. Put the pork back into the oven without the foil, but make sure first that it’s still perched, one end higher than the other, on the slices of onion.

10. Give the pork 2. hours at this temperature, by which time much of the fat should have rendered down, melting lusciously into the meat, and less lusciously into the tin, and the rind will be beginning to crackle. But if, when you poke the tip of a knife into the pork, it doesn’t feel tender yet, leave it in for another 30 minutes.

11. Turn the oven back up to 220.C/200.C Fan, and give the pork around 15 minutes – or a little longer if needed, but keep watch to make sure the rind doesn’t go too far and burn – until the crackling is deep gold and crunchy, and some of the little squares may have popped up.

12. Take the pork out of the oven and remove carefully to a carving board. Cut through both sides of each rib, down to where the butcher cut through the bones, to get a chunky rib section for each person. The crackling on the pork may make this tricky, so you can use poultry shears or kitchen scissors to cut through it – the splintering noise is rather splendid – before slicing down into the meat. This way each rib section gets a proper piece of crackling. Because the meat has to be so heavily salted to boost juiciness and flavour, most of the onions will be far too salty to serve. One or two will be perfect though, and divinely sticky with pork fat; you can share these out meagrely now, eat them yourself, or save them for sandwiches later.

Store – Refrigerate leftovers, covered, for up to 3 days. Reheat as directed in recipe until piping hot.

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