Dear Truffler: Turkey basting; pork belly, tonnato con vitello

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Indy Lifestyle Online

You can tell I'm not a habitual cook, but perhaps you can help me out in time for Christmas. Last year as I was using my turkey baster to get the fat off the top of the gravy I melted the bulb. I couldn't swear that I didn't rest it against the roasting tin in the heat of the moment, but surely it shouldn't have disintegrated that easily? Now I need another, more durable baster, and advice on how best to skim off the fat.

You can tell I'm not a habitual cook, but perhaps you can help me out in time for Christmas. Last year as I was using my turkey baster to get the fat off the top of the gravy I melted the bulb. I couldn't swear that I didn't rest it against the roasting tin in the heat of the moment, but surely it shouldn't have disintegrated that easily? Now I need another, more durable baster, and advice on how best to skim off the fat.

C Walls, Hackney

At times like this I turn to Lakeland Limited (01539 488100; www.lakelandlimited.co.uk), which has a heat-resistant glass baster said to withstand hot fat and juices better than plastic (although the bulb is rubber, so watch out). It's £4.25. Or, spend £6.95 on Lakeland's gravy skimmer – a polycarbonate see-through jug into which you pour the juices. Let them settle; fat will rise to the top and the fat-free juices emerge from the spout, positioned low down so it's below the level of the fat when you pour.

I recently bought some rare-breed pork, including a piece of belly. I have only ever cooked it as slices. Do you have a recipe for a whole piece of belly pork?

Mrs Joyce Thompson, Beds

There's one for braised pork belly with fennel in Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories: Second Helpings (Macmillan, £20). Pork belly also roasts well. It's fatty but succulent, and you'll get spiffing crackling. Score the skin with a Stanley knife, rub in salt and roast 1.5kg for 30 minutes at a high heat – 230 oC/gas 8, then lower for another two/two and a half hours. Moro: the Cookbook (Ebury Press, £25) has a recipe for roasting with fennel seeds, the pan juices deglazed with sherry at the end. In Appetite (Fourth Estate, £15), Nigel Slater suggests fennel seeds and a Chinese flavouring of hoisin sauce, rice wine and soy. To go French, preserve the belly as petit salé – salted pork. Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson (Pan, £14.99) suggests making a brine, steeping the meat in it for 10 days, then boiling and serving with lentils. Or roast the belly, having brined it for three days.

About 15 years ago, I went to a fish restaurant in New York City called the Manhattan Ocean Club and had a dish called tonnato con vitello. Not vitello tonnato, but a twist on it. I have been back there, but the dish was no longer on the menu. It consisted of thin tuna steaks quickly grilled. Covering it was a cream-based sauce, infused with the flavour of roast veal. That part has eluded me. Can you help?

Frank Horack, by e-mail

After looking at every recipe website I could find, I rang the MOC (57 West 58th Street, NYC; 001-212 371 7777), where the chef recalled one of his predecessor's signature dishes. He didn't know precise quantities, but it is a mayonnaise sauce, not a cream-based one. Pepper and sear a loin of tuna, then refrigerate it. For the veal sauce, use shoulder or leg of veal trimmed of fat, sauté with onions and cognac, add a little chicken stock and braise for one and a half hours. Purée when cold with mayonnaise, capers and lemon juice to a sauce-like consistency. Slice the tuna and dress with the sauce.

Write to Dear Truffler, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail truffler@independent.co.uk

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