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A carnival of flavours born in the big top

Run away to the circus and eat well with this magical new cookbook, says Ella Walker

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Pork belly baps with poached rhubarb

Pork belly baps with poached rhubarb

PA

Pork belly baps with poached rhubarb

Your childhood self may have dreamt of running off with the local circus and hitching a ride with a big top, but some people grew up and did just that.

The late Nell Gifford launched cult extravaganza Giffords Circus in 2000, a travelling band showcasing spectacular, mesmeric acts (and silly ones too), handmade costumes and beguiling sets, and, eventually, banquet tables laden with food.

Travelling restaurant Circus Sauce, headed up by chef Ols Halas, provides physically nourishing ballast to the enchantment of the live shows, and now you can recreate the food and bewitching feasting at home...

The book: Giffords Circus Cookbook by Nell Gifford and Ols Halas.

Who will love it? Even if you've never ventured to one of Giffords' shows, the bold flavours and deft ingredient combinations should hook you in regardless.

What is it trying to get us cooking? This is the classic British fare you'd be served at Giffords' much in-demand Circus Sauce. So think vats of bright-green nettle soup, whopping fish pies to share, banoffee pie with salted caramel and the most decadent steak tartare. Plus snacky bits you'd eat at the fair, like salted maple popcorn, posh hot dogs and barbecue corn with lashings of chilli butter.

The best recipe is: The chocolate brownies, apparently they're a Giffords institution.

The recipe we're most likely to post on Instagram is: Scotch bonnet hot chocolate, because chilli and chocolate together are just so chic, or the whole roast pineapple with rum babas.

The dish we're least likely to try is: Head, hock and trotter terrine, as we're not entirely sure how to get hold of a whole pig, trotters and all, right now.

Overall rating: 7/10 - it provides escapism and magic, although the dishes do require a little effort.

Giffords Circus Cookbook: Recipes and stories from a magical circus restaurant, by Nell Gifford and Ols Halas, published by Quadrille, £27

Pork belly baps with poached rhubarb

SERVES 8

What you'll need

1kg pork belly, de-boned and skin scored

1tbsp cider vinegar

Vegetable oil, for roasting and frying

100g mayonnaise (see below)

1tsp smoked paprika

Squeeze of lemon juice

8 brioche baps, cut in half

Mixed salad leaves

Sea salt

For the poached rhubarb:

200ml cloudy cider

50g brown sugar

1 cinnamon stick

4 sticks rhubarb, trimmed and cut into finger-length sticks

For the mayonnaise:

1 egg yolk

1tsp white wine vinegar

1tsp Dijon mustard

150ml vegetable oil

Squeeze of lemon juice

Sea salt and black pepper

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 220°C.

2. For the mayonnaise, mix the egg yolk with the vinegar and mustard in a bowl. Ever so slowly, trickle in the oil, whisking all the while, until you have a smooth, thick mayonnaise. Season well with salt and pepper and add a good squeeze of lemon juice.

3. Place the pork in a deep saucepan, cover with water and add a couple of pinches of salt. Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes, then remove and pat dry with kitchen paper. Transfer to a roasting tray and add the vinegar and a good drizzle of vegetable oil. Sprinkle a good pinch of sea salt over, then rub everything into the scored skin. Roast for 30-45 minutes, keeping an eye on it, until the skin is uniformly golden and crisp and the roasting juices run clear when you pierce the meat with a sharp knife. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

4. For the poached rhubarb, bring the cider, brown sugar and cinnamon stick to the boil in a non-reactive saucepan. Turn down the heat to low, drop in the rhubarb and poach for 10 minutes, or until tender but not falling apart. Leave to cool.

5. When you're ready to eat, mix the mayonnaise with the paprika and lemon juice in a small bowl. Slice the pork belly into 1cm thick slices that will fit into the baps and fry in a skillet or heavy-based frying pan with a very small amount of vegetable oil on a medium heat until crisp. Fill each bap with a slice or two of pork belly, a few sticks of poached rhubarb, a small handful of salad leaves and a good drizzle of the smoky mayo.

Belfast Telegraph