SOME of my favourite times of the year are when families and friends all gather together for special occasions, whether that’s an annual celebration like Easter or Christmas, or whether it’s a celebration that’s personal to you like a birthday or an anniversary.
Those are often the occasions when time is spent enjoying a special meal out at a favourite restaurant or taking a bit more time and effort to cook up a delicious meal at home.
Easter can often be a great chance for families to get together and enjoy a wonderful meal as many people are lucky enough to have a few days off, giving them time to relax and catch up. It’s also a perfect chance to try out some new recipes and get everyone to lend a hand in the kitchen.
For us, Easter always means a big family feast. Our boys are now at an age when they just love an excuse to celebrate, so this year will also see lots of Easter decorations around the house, a huge collection of chocolate eggs and face-painting, which is usually messy but a lot of fun.
We also have a tradition of staging a great Easter treasure hunt. It’s not only great fun for the kids, usually the adults and even the dogs get involved in the search for the hidden chocolate eggs that we hide all around the house and garden. We always laugh about it afterwards because we end up finding eggs that we’ve forgotten about or haven’t been found way past Easter and into summer.
Although the treasure hunt is always a lot of fun, the hardest part after actually finding all of the eggs is telling the kids – especially our younger boy, Axel – that he shouldn’t eat all the eggs on that one day. It’s always a time of great excitement, with the kids full of energy.
Another part of the day that has become a favourite tradition is the rolling of Easter eggs. It’s great fun to get the kids involved in making things as they get such a sense of achievement. My wife Michaela has a wonderful creative eye and she helps the boys make different decorations and to paint their own eggs. And heading outdoors to roll the eggs is a good chance to get some air and burn off some of that chocolate before the big afternoon or evening meal.
A great big Easter feast is great, and I always like to try something different and add my own unique twist. This year, for a bit of fun, I decided to do a new take on the traditional Scotch egg. Instead of the using haggis, I’ve created my own Scotch Easter egg with smoked haddock. It’s delicious either as a starter or, indeed, if you want to take a picnic when you head out to roll your eggs or visit friends.
For me, the centrepiece of an Easter meal is the roast. This year we’re having roast pork belly, and I’m already looking forward to sitting down to enjoy it. It does take a fair amount of time to prepare but it’s worth every minute. I use part of this recipe in a dish we serve at the restaurant, and I enjoy it so much that I have to try hard to stop myself eating all the crackling so I still have some left to serve. Crackling is not the healthiest guilty pleasure, but there’s something about the saltiness and the crisp, crunch as you bite into it that is so hard to beat – and incredibly moreish.
Aside from my love of crackling, this is a really special dish. It’s a very traditional recipe, and I just adore it. For a long time I was taking a chef’s approach to cooking pork belly – braising it slowly and cooking it sous vide (sealed in airtight bags in a water bath) to make sure it retains all its flavour and stays moist. But I went for a home-cooked lunch one day and the host made this absolutely sensational pork. She used a very traditional, simple method to cook it and was kind enough to pass on her recipe to me. I’ve now changed the way I cook pork belly.
The real secret to this recipe is to buy good-quality pork, and make sure you leave the skin on so you don’t miss out on the crackling. Even if you don’t want to eat the crackling, it’s still the best way to retain all the flavour of the meat. If you do serve this dish over Easter, I’m sure your guests will be asking for your recipe, just as I did when I first tried it.
Crispy Pork Belly
• 1 kilo of quality pork belly, skin left on
A day in advance
The day before you’re going to cook and enjoy the pork, take a sharp knife and score the skin in a criss-cross pattern, then season well by rubbing salt thoroughly into the skin.
Place the pork on a cooling wire, then on a tray – don’t cover with clingfilm – and put in the fridge for 24 hours.
On the day
Pre-heat oven to 180°C, then take the pork belly and pour a good 550ml of boiling water over it while it is still sitting on the wire on top of the tray. This method will open the skin and the fat and help create a wonderful crackling.
Place the pork belly into the oven at 180°C for 20 to 25 minutes, then lower the temperature to 140°C. Let the pork continue to cook for about 2½ hours. This method of cooking will ensure the fat becomes great crackling.
When you take the pork out of the oven, the meat should be so tender that it flakes.
Serve with plenty of fresh seasonal vegetables and a home-made apple sauce
Scotch Easter Egg
Makes 12 small Scotch eggs
• 2 fillets smoked haddock
• ½ pint milk
• 2 sprigs thyme
• 1 bay leaf
• Cracked black pepper
• 12 quail eggs
• 500g potatoes, peeled
• 2-3 sprigs dill, chopped
• Zest of 1 lemon
• 100g plain flour
• 100g breadcrumbs
• 1 egg, beaten
• Pinch of salt
To poach the haddock
Add together the milk, thyme, bay leaf and cracked black pepper in a pot and place over a medium heat. Once it is smoking, add the haddock fillets and poach gently until cooked. Once cooked, remove the haddock from the liquid. You can keep the milk aside and use it to make Cullen skink on another night, as it will have a delicious smoky flavour.
To make the Scotch eggs
Fill a pan of water and bring to the boil. Add the quail eggs and boil for exactly two minutes and 25 seconds. Take the eggs from the boiling water and peel off the shell, then set aside.
Chop the peeled potatoes, then bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook for the potatoes for ten to 15 minutes, or until tender enough to mash. Once cooked, drain the potatoes and mash them with a potato masher or a fork.
Add the haddock to the mash and mix together. Add some cracked black pepper, then add the chopped dill and lemon zest and mix together.
Carefully take a large spoonful of the potato and haddock mix in your hand and place a quail egg in the middle. Wrap the potato mix around the egg to create a ball. You have to be very careful at this stage so as not to damage the delicate eggs. Repeat with the rest of the eggs.
Place the flour, the beaten egg and the breadcrumbs in separate bowls, then coat each egg by rolling it first in the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumbs.
Then, carefully, roll each egg between your hands so it forms a perfect sphere shape.
Pre-heat a fryer full of oil to 180°C and place the eggs in carefully. Fry until golden.
Carefully remove each egg from the fryer and place on to kitchen paper, then season with a pinch of salt.
The secret of this dish is to boil your quail eggs for exactly the right length of time, so when you cut into each egg the yolk will spill out.