5 January 2012

Pork Ballotine for New Year's Day

Considering how terribly, terribly wrong this could all have gone, it actually went extremely well.

The plan was to make a Pork Ballotine - which was to be a pork fillet, halved and pounded flat then filled with a stuffing mixture and strips of chicken breast, then rolled, wrapped tightly in cling film and cooked for 3 hrs in the slow cooker, sous vide style.

I can't see any room within that description for it to go wrong, can you?  ~rolls eyes~  

The pork could have refused to flatten out (it didn't), the stuffing mixture could have been pallid and uninteresting (it wasn't) or over-seasoned and over-flavoured (it wasn't).  The cling film could have let go and allowed the water to penetrate the meat (the top layer allowed water in, but the second layer resisted the temptation) and the cooking could have been too long (it wasn't) or too short (it wasn't that, either).  All things considered, it was a triumphant combination of both skill and luck.

So, to give you an idea of the whole dish, it was the Pork Ballotine accompanied by an Ottolenghi recipe for Parsnip & Sweet Potato Roast, along with baby courgettes and baby aubergines.  I wasn't sure whether we'd need a gravy, as the roast vegetables included a lemon dressing.  However, the gravy was definitely a good thing because the Ballotine was fat-free apart from the sausage meat & olive oil that went into the stuffing and it needed that sauciness.  Even after 3 hours' cooking, it wasn't dry - but the dish definitely needed something saucy to help the jaws go around.

I can safely say that the Ballotine was by far and away the most advanced culinary task I've had to produce yet.  I had no idea that it would take as long as it did to produce - I seemed to be sitting there for aeons, trimming meat, making stuffing, trimming up the chicken into slices, stuffing, rolling and wrapping.

I made four individual Ballotines, which gave us one to have cold (another useful and successful experiment) later on.

Pork tenderloin prior to trimming
I had every intention (I even had the camera beside me) of photographing the process of producing the Ballotines, but I am afraid I got so "into" the process that I completely forgot to take photographs.  Sorry!

So to talk you through the process of making four Ballotines, I need to start with a large slow cooker (or I suppose an enormous stock pot in the oven would do the same thing), filled three quarters of the way with hot water and pre-heated to medium (approx 65-70deg C).  I tested mine with a meat thermometer before adding the Ballotines, just to reassure myself that it was hot enough.

Take two pork fillets (or tenderloins) which require to be trimmed of gristle.  Then nip off either end, to create a neat edge.  Retain the nipped off ends, as they can be included in the stuffing mix.  Next, cut each fillet into half, which will leave you with four fat sausage shapes of meat and set aside while you make the stuffing.

I based my stuffing mix around two top quality Cumberland sausages, which I skinned and used the meat from.  However, because the sausage meat is already ground you don't want to include it with the ingredients for the stuffing that are going to require chopping in a food processor, so simply place the sausage meat into a bowl with an egg yolk.

Then, to the food processor, I added the ends of the pork, a chopped onion that I had sauteed in butter and allowed to cool, two tablespoons of pine nuts, six prunes, a half a teaspoon of dried sage, a teaspoonful of dried thyme, a handful of fresh parsley, a dessertspoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt and a whole heap of freshly ground black pepper.  In retrospect, I think I'd probably have added a clove of garlic to the mixture, too.  Blitz until you have a fairly smooth, sticky paste and decant into the bowl with the sausage meat and egg.  Give the whole lot a good mix to combine it well and set aside. 

Turning our attention back to the meat, the next thing is to cut a slice through the long side of the meat bi-secting it three-quarters of the way, but not cutting through the other side. Lay the meat down - opened out - onto a piece of cling film, cut side down, and lay another piece of cling film over the top.  Take a rolling pin or other blunt heavy instrument and gently but firmly pound the meat until it is as thin as you dare.   Take care, initially, with hitting it where the join is or you'll split the two pieces - and that way leads to an exploding Ballotine, which isn't good!

You can see the three pieces of chicken, surrounded by stuffing
Once the meat is pounded thin, strip off the top layer of cling film and take an eighth of the stuffing mix.  Place this in a wide strip across the centre of the short side of the meat.  The Ballotine is going to be quite fat, so you'll need the extra length to roll it successfully.

Next, cut three long strips of meat from a chicken breast and lay two along the top of the stuffing strip.

Take another eighth of stuffing and form into a long sausage shape, which gets laid in between the two strips of chicken and smoothed to cover them.  Place the third strip of chicken on top.

Pick up one of the free sides and flap it over the stuffing, then begin to roll towards the remaining free side, shaping into an even but fat, cigar-shape as you go.

Once rolled, pick up the cling film edge that it is sitting on and roll the Ballotine up until it is tightly held by the cling film.  Twist both ends, then sit the Ballotine on one end and gently tighten the other.  This will force the meat down the tube of cling film and create a neat edge.  Tighten the uppermost twist and then re-wrap in another piece of cling film so that you have two layers of waterproofing.  If you want to be even more sure of it, wrap it a third time.

There you are - one Pork Ballotine.  Now all you've got to do is repeat that again three times and you'll have lost a good couple of hours, but have four fat sausages.

The only thing left to do now, is to say whichever prayer you think suits the moment and place your prize Ballotines into the slow cooker bath - which, just for today, we'll upgrade to a Sous Vide Immersion Thermostatically Controlled Device.  There, don't you feel swanky?

Now run away and hide until you have to look at them again - which, for me, was within a half an hour when hubby helpfully commented "your Ballotines have exploded a bit!".  It turned out that the top layer of cling film had ballooned somewhat through not being rolled tightly enough - but all was thankfully still waterproof under that.

At the end of some three hours' cooking (which is probably all you've got left, by the time you've made the darned things!), remove them from the slow cooker and peel off their cling film, watching out for the cooking juices which will be hot and all too ready to jet out at random angles, preferably all down your front.

Heat a good knob of butter and a glug of olive oil in a frying pan and brown the outside of each Ballotine, before leaving them for 10-15 minutes to rest.

Having done this procedure, what came out of the cling film looking fairly unappetising, miraculously turns into something that looks blinking lovely.

Slice carefully into three and serve with your choice of accompanying vegetables.  You'll be jolly glad you made these - but I can tell you that it'll be a long old time before you find me making them again!  Not because of any hesitation over their flavour or texture - all of which were divine - but because the day spent tending to them in the kitchen very nearly wiped me out for the next two days.  I'd very definitely make these again - but I'll have to be a whole lot less disabled before I do so!


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