Season Generously

Potted Pork Belly with Pistachios

My mother in-law is French, and what’s  more than that, she’s a French cook. So when they come to stay I feel duty-bound to prove to them I’m not making my husband subsist on a diet of boiled lamb and microwaved pizza, the staple diet of the Brit, apparently.

The problem is, that when they come, the man and I often take advantage of the babysitting on  offer, and get a little, tipsy. The galantine of duck I had planned to impress them with gets shelved for another day, and I find myself digging blearily through the freezer in search of an old curry to defrost. Or a microwave pizza.

That’s where the potted meats are so useful. I can produce them with a flourish even after a trip to the pub, and generally give the impression of being a responsible young lady Who Can Cook. Pair them with some good bread, and, for extra brownie points, chutney made by the mother-in-law and you have a top class meal in seconds. Also wonderful for picnics, and the kind of train journeys where you bring a bottle of wine and pretend it is 1923. In Austria, where I live, the trains still have compartments, so one time, before the baby, I produced a jar of potted meat and a tablecloth, my husband brought the beer, and we sped through the Alps like Elizabeth David.

The question of whether or not you can preserve meat in this way is a controversial one. The American FDA says no, absolutely not, far too dangerous, so if you are of a nervous or litigious disposition, I suggest you follow their advice, and find a recipe for a nice low-risk chutney or jam. If, however, you are of a more relaxed nature, the kind of person who swims naked and drinks red wine not just for their health, read on.

The  problem here is the botulism spores, that can live and reproduce in hermetically sealed environments, if the PH of the product is low enough, which is why high PH jams and chutneys are safe. Heat will kill them, but only a high heat can guarantee that you kill all the beasties. The FDA recommends a pressure canner. If you have one, this is the way to go.

If you don’t have a pressure canner, well, it’s up to you. This recipe was translated and adapted from a German recipe book, from the well known GU publishing house, they think it’s perfectly safe, as does my mother-in-law. In France, no one has heard of the FDA, and everyone pots their own meat. In the last twenty years one person in the whole of France has died of Botulism, although a few dozen more got pretty sick from it, and the culprit was usually homemade goods. It’s up to you. If you don’t fancy your chances, store it in the fridge and use it quickly. It will still look very attractive on the table in a pretty jar, even if it’s just for show.

So here is the recipe. I am in love with preserving foods in this way, and especially with my brand new, sleek Weck preserving jars. It is very easy to tell if a seal has formed with these jars, as the lid will fall off it hasn’t. I can’t stop lifting them up by the lids, marvelling at the force that keeps them tightly attached to the base, with no screw or clips. It feels like magic.



Half a kilo / one pound Pork belly

1 onion

tsp allspice

Tsp peppercorns

4 bay leaves

25g/ 1oz chopped pistachios

Finely grated peel of one lemon

Chopped fresh herbs, Thyme or Sage would be great, but parsley or marjoram would do in a pinch

Salt and pepper

Note: this is the basic recipe to illustrate the method of oven preserving, you can add whatever extra flavouring ingredients you have to hand instead of or in addition to the pistachios. Some smoked bacon would be great, or for a fruity twist, some chopped dried cranberries or finely chopped apple.