Russell Brown, Head Chef at Sienna Restaurant, Dorchester provides us with a belly of pork recipe

Our series in which Russell Brown, Head Chef at Sienna Restaurant in Dorchester, provides us with seasonal recipes, and Jonathan Charles from The Dorset Wine Company offers suggestions of which wine to drink with them.The Recipe

Dark afternoons, cold wet evenings, and hard financial times upon us... what better excuse for some comfort food?

Fortunately, the best dishes can be some of the cheapest. A bottle of wine and some herbs and aromatic vegetables, combined with long, slow cooking, will transform many cheap cuts into rich, unctuous, deeply satisfying dishes. Braising, slow-roasting, confiting and casseroling are the cooking methods for winter. Bulk is provided by beans, pulses, potatoes and wonderful root vegetables. All of these things combine to make truly fantastic food.

Beef, pork, mutton or lamb, venison and rabbit all provide cheap cuts of meat for slow cooking. Think of braised oxtail, confited rabbit legs, confited shoulder of mutton or, for this month's recipe, slow-roasted pork belly. Sweet, tender meat, aromatic with sage, fennel and garlic, topped with crisp, bubbly crackling. Slow cooking at around 120C or 130ºC is the key with all these cuts. Mashed potato, roasted root vegetables and a good sauce - how much comfort can you take!

Slow-roasted Pork Belly (serves 6)

1dsp fennel seeds

1tbsp Maldon salt

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4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 small bunch sage

2kg pork belly, on the bone

1 carrot

1 leek

1 stick celery

1 small onion

200ml cider


Toast the fennel seeds in a small pan until the aromas start to release. Tip out of the pan and cool, then mix with the salt, garlic and sage. Score the skin on the pork belly, cutting just through the skin. Rub the herb mix into the flesh side, then wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate overnight.

The following day, prepare and roughly chop the vegetables. Place in a small roasting tin. Unwrap the pork and pour boiling water over the skin to help the crackling. Dry and rub with salt and oil. Place the pork on top of the vegetables, pour the cider around and roast at 130C until completely tender. Depending on the thickness and breed, this will be between 21/2 to 4 hours. Throughout the roasting, keep topping up the liquid with water. To finish, turn up the heat to 220C for 15 mins. If necessary, finish the crackling under a medium grill.

Strain off the resulting stock, reduce to taste, and finish with a knob of butter or splash of cream to make a sauce. Serve with creamy mash, roasted root vegetables and caramelised apple.

The Wine

As we've heard from Russell, there is a major saving grace for dull old February, and that is the fact that it is when comfort food really comes in to its own. Comfort foods demand comforting wines; wines that will have the same fortifying and embracing effect that the food does. It is the time of year that one should roll out the big guns... beefy Australian Cabernets with deep cassis fruit flavours and hints of eucalyptus, velvety smooth Riojas with well-integrated oak and a tantalising creamy mouth feel, or why not the rich, rustic and robust wines of southern Italy? There are so many possibilities for good comforting drinking that we do not have the space to mention even half of them here.

Comfort wines do not necessarily need to be red, however, and Russell's pork-belly dish, a wonderful example of taking a relatively cheap and simple cut of meat and slow roasting it into something that resembles near perfection, cries out for a big, yet not necessarily oaky, white. The dish is deeply flavoured, having been cooked for so long, and the textural difference between succulent, juicy meat and crisp, crunchy crackling is ably supported by the caramelised apple and cider-based sauce. A great region to head for would be Juranon, in the foothills of the Pyrenees in south-west France where they make wines ranging from dry and complex through to very sweet. The 2005 Juranon Sec Cuvée Marie by Charles Hours works well with this dish because it has plenty of pure, ripe and complex fruit that drinks nicely alongside the pork, and being unoaked, the wine does not overpower the flavours in the dish, but complements them. The very pure, crisp acidity that the wine has, courtesy of its high-altitude vineyards and pure mountain air, helps to cut through the richer aspects of the dish.

Good Juranon is never going to be the cheapest wine available, but as it is so rich and complex usually a glass or two will suffice, allowing you to congratulate yourself for being thrifty in the quantity department at least!