Beaten into the lawn of my back garden, hard against the low wall up from the patio, are two footprints of dying grass. They mark the spot where, five times a week, I have been placing the step block that has become the replacement for my gym habit. I have literally climbed the height of a Himalayan mountain. I now view that murdered lawn as a visual sign of my atonement. Because the furious activity outside the door to the kitchen has been matched by my activity in it. I have cooked things I normally would avoid. I eat them here, and work them off there. The outcome is that I have nailed three key dishes. And so, as a public service, and not in any way as a feeble justification for my outrageous kitchen habits, I shall now share them with you.
First up, the oven chip, forever the sad relation of the proper deep-fried item, lacking in crispness outside, fluffiness inside and hope. They are a reminder of what you’re not eating. Here’s the solution. Cut the potatoes into chips. Cook in salted boiling water until almost done. Drain, and spread them out on kitchen paper on a tray in the fridge for at least two hours. When you’re ready, put the oven to at least 220C/gas mark 7 and put an oven tray in there with close to a centimetre of vegetable oil for about 15 minutes until it’s smoking. Introduce fridge cold chips to very hot oil. Turn them every 10 minutes until chip heaven is achieved. It should take about 45 minutes. Drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle with sea salt. Eat them. Thank me.
Onwards. One day, about 3pm, my neighbour Marc texted me a picture of pork belly with gloriously crackled skin. I was baffled. He was working from home. Was he about to have lunch? Nope. He had roasted it on high for 40 minutes and wanted me to admire it. That was followed by nearly three hours on 130C/gas mark ¾ and 15 more minutes back on high. Finally, he rested it under foil for an hour. He sent me pictures all the way through. I later tried this method and sent him pictures. In lockdown I have been exchanging pictures of roast pork with my neighbour. If you cook pork belly this way you too will send pictures to your loved ones. It’s that good: perfect crackling, soft collapsing meat. Thank me again. Or thank Marc.
Finally, I have discovered that spaghetti should be braised. Yes, really. I made pork meatballs from equal amounts of ground pork and Toulouse sausages pulled from their skins. I seared those in a cast-iron casserole, removed them, and slow cooked an onion in the seasoned fat. I broke up the dry spaghetti and turned it in the onions and fat, before topping up with double the volume of chicken stock from a cube. (So 300g of spaghetti needs 600ml of stock.) I placed the meatballs back on the top and put it in the oven preheated to 180C/gas mark 4, lid on, for about 10 minutes. I took off the lid and returned it to the oven for a further five minutes. I did all this because I was in lockdown and bored. What was the worst that could happen? If it was lousy, I’d make the family sandwiches. It wasn’t lousy. It was gorgeous. The spaghetti soaked up all the stock and became a rich buttery tangle, but still with bite. Thank me one final time. There you go: chips, pork belly, spaghetti. That’s at least two key food groups covered. The good ones. This is my gift to you from lockdown. Now do excuse me. There’s a step block requiring my attention.
Jay will post pictures of these triumphs to his Instagram account: @jayrayner1