As I’ve discussed before, pork is one of our favourite meats in this household. Apart from shoulder, which is a gorgeous cut if you want melt-in-the-mouth pulled pork, pork belly has to be our favourite piece of pig. It is a rich, indulgent, flavoursome bit of meat, due to the high fat content, and although it’s probably not wise to add it to your weekly meals, it’s the perfect choice for a special dinner. An added bonus is that, due to this high fat content, it is a very cheap cut (the piece I bought for the recipe below cost about £3, which is far, far cheaper than an equivalent piece of roasting beef or lamb, or even a small chicken).
The main appeal of pork belly is the mouth-watering crackling that you can produce from the skin and the layer of fat below, but the meat underneath should not be overlooked. If cooked right, the meat in pork belly should be tender and juicy. In order to achieve both crispy skin and succulent meat, the cut needs a combination of quick, high blasts of heat and slow cooking at a low temperature. I’ve cooked pork belly many times in the past, but this was the first time I did a flash cook at a high temperature both at the start and the end of cooking. And though I do say so myself, it was the best pork belly I have ever cooked. Are you sold yet?…
Ingredients (serves 2-3)
700g boneless pork belly
1 tbsp fennel seeds
Salt and pepper
1 large onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, skin on, crushed
Glass of white wine
For the gravy:
1 tbsp corn flour
1 chicken stock cube, made up with 250ml boiling water
1. Gently bash the fennel in a mortar and pestle to open the seeds and release the flavours. Rub into the underside of the pork belly, along with a generous grind of black pepper.
2. Score the skin with a very sharp knife. Do this diagonally in opposite directions to produce a criss-cross pattern, cutting through the skin and most of the fat, but avoiding cutting into the flesh if you can.
If you bought your pork belly from a supermarket then there is often some scoring already done, but there are not normally enough scores, or deep enough scores, for the crackling to work properly so go over these yourself. If you are buying the pork from a butcher then ask them to score it for you – they should know exactly how to do this correctly. Rub an extremely generous amount of salt into the scores.
3. Heat your oven to the highest temperature it can go to. Place the pork on top of the onion and garlic in a roasting tray and put into the hot oven for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 170C/150C fan/Gas Mark 3 and cook for 1 hour.
4. After the first hour add the wine to the roasting tray, along with a splash of water (add extra water as time goes on if necessary to stop the onions drying out and burning too much). Return to the oven for a further hour of cooking.
5. After the second hour turn the oven temperature up to 220C/200C fan/ Gas Mark 7 for 20-30 minutes until the skin has turned into crackling. Remove the pork belly from the tray, place on a serving platter and cover in foil and a tea towel to keep warm until serving.
6. To make the gravy, place the roasting tray on the hob over a medium heat until the onions and remaining liquid begins to bubble. Add the corn flour, stirring well to dissolve. Add the stock a little at a time and cook until the gravy is at the consistency of your liking. Strain through a sieve to serve.
We had our pork belly with the gravy, roast potatoes (which went into the oven at the same time that the temperature was turned back up – a perfect arrangement) and peas. A bottle of white wine, or light red wine, is a must for such an indulgent dinner.
Are you sold now? Seriously, I’m salivating just now just writing about it…