You know those chainmail gloves you can get to protect your hands when shucking oysters? Well, they would be useful if you plan to grow quince. The growing of the quince itself is, apparently, relatively effortless. Unlike their pear and apple cousins they are compact, unfussy and largely pest free. And because the fruit is fairly slow to mature, it won’t go from sour rock to mushy wasp fodder in days making it ideal for the inattentive gardener. The blossom is beautiful and fragrant too. Why I don’t have a quince tree I don’t know.

It’s in the cooking of them that the effort is spent. They are completely and utterly impenetrable. Butternut squash is a ripe peach in comparison to tough quince flesh. You can’t, therefore, eat them raw. To be honest you probably couldn’t even get your teeth into one raw; or if you did you’d want to know a good dentist. This is where the chainmail glove comes in because if you quarter and core them before cooking (a good plan if you don’t want to wait 2 plus hours for it to cook) then their impervious flesh makes protection from knife slippages a necessity. Once butchered, they need cooking, roasting or poaching, for a good hour before you even consider tasting them.

But oh, once you do taste them: sweet, perfumed, voluptuous – they taste exotic and mysterious, almost otherworldly.

Their rareness too adds to this sense of mystery. You can’t generally buy them in a supermarket or grocer. But they do keep for a couple of weeks so should you see them, buy them. I’ve found Natoora have them between roughly November and March and that this is the only reliable non-commercial source. I really am going to have to get a tree.

So, once you have your prized quince wafting their fragrance about your kitchen (reason enough to buy them in my view), what do you do with them? The most common option is to poach them in sugar syrup and booze as you might pears. Or make them into quince jelly; the pectin levels are sky high in quince so it sets beautifully. In fact, I’ve found that even just the syrup left over from poaching a quince will set. It tastes delicious and smells divine too so is worth keeping to adorn vanilla ice-cream.

I’m feeling a bit experimental so I try my quince with pressed pork belly for a decadent, show-off starter.

A faff for a starter, yes, but my goodness, worth it. China is the second largest producer of quince (after Turkey), which might explain why I am drawn to pairing it with the tongue-numbing zing of Sichuan pepper. The combination of fatty pork with sour rhubarb and sweet, fragrant quince is the classic sweet-versus-sour story of so much oriental food.

There might be a pudding too. Probably involving almonds. But more of that in next week’s blog…

Sichuan Pork Belly with Roast Quince and Rhubarb

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 24 hours

Total Time: 24 hours

Serves: 4

Sichuan Pork Belly with Roast Quince and Rhubarb

Glorious to look at and heavenly to eat, this might be effortful for a starter, but the flavour and texture combinations are so interesting it's worth the work.

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery stick
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1kg piece boneless pork belly, skin removed
  • 2 tbsp Sichuan pepper, roughly crushed
  • 3 stems forced rhubarb
  • 1 quince
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tbsp runny honey
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 165oC.
  2. Roughly chop the carrot and celery and peel the garlic. Arrange them in one layer on the bottom of a roasting tin. Rub the pork belly all over with the Sichuan pepper then sit it on top of the vegetables. Pour cold water into the tin (pour around the pork, not over it) until the water reaches half way up the side of the pork. Cover the whole thing tightly with foil and pop it in the oven for 4 hours.
  3. After 4 hours, remove from the oven and lift the pork onto a baking tray to cool. (The cooking juices in the roasting tin are a free pork stock so bag it and freeze for later.) Once cooled, place another baking tray on top of the pork and either tie the baking trays together to compress the pork within or sit a few tins of beans on top of the pork/baking tray sandwich. Whichever you choose, place it in the fridge overnight to press.
  4. The next day, make the rhubarb puree. Simply chop the rhubarb and put it in a pan with 1 tbsp water then simmer until the rhubarb is soft. Use a hand blender to whizz the mixture to a smooth, baby pink, puree. Set aside until needed.
  5. For the quince, pre-heat the oven to 220oC. Wash off any downy fuzz on the quince skin, or, as Nigel Slater charmingly refers to it, bum fluff. Chainmail-up if you have the option, then core and slice the quince into 1/8ths. Coat the quince segments with sunflower oil and bake for 30-50 minutes depending on the age of your quince (the older the quicker). Once soft, drizzle with the honey then return to the oven for a further 5 minutes. Remove and keep warm.
  6. Cut the pressed pork into 1 portion sized squares, season with salt, then roast at 220oC for 10 minutes or until the top is golden and crispy. On a plate, dollop a tablespoon of the rhubarb puree, set the sizzling pork square on top and place a piece of warm roast quince on the side. Serve and feel swanky.
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