It’s funny to think that Pork Belly was once the world’s most actively traded commodity in the futures market. This was back in 1961. 50 years later, and most of us Westerners have forgotten all about Pork Belly, unless it’s been cooked as either bacon or pancetta. Some Brits still slow roast it, but otherwise it’s been lost to our local menus.
This is not so for our Eastern counterparts. Pork Belly is immensely popular in Asia; most notably in China, Japan, and Korea. My butcher tells me that these countries have it right; the cut is saturated in fat and absolutely delicious if prepared properly. The skin crackles spectacularly if put under high heat. And it’s by no means simply a poor man’s cut. He tells me that the Chinese embassy keeps itself well stocked with Pork Belly at all times.
While it’s a shame we lost our taste for Pork Belly, there is one saving grace: Pork Belly has become one of the cheapest pork cuts you can buy. To top it off, due to its richness you don’t need much of it to feel satisfied. Not only is it delicious, but it’s also budget friendly. That said – this may not last too long. Foodies around the world have started rediscovering Pork Belly, and restaurants are cashing in on the slowly increasing popularity. It won’t be long before its price rises along with it.
While we’re talking about it, you should have a look at how to use other cuts of pork; a pig is more than a pork chop, you know.
Cooking with Pork Belly
There are several ways of preparing Pork Belly which don’t involve curing or salting, but the most popular here in the west would have to be:
- Braising, in which the belly is first seared over high heat, and then stewed in a smaller container with some liquid
- Slow Roasting, which for Pork Belly typically involves being baked at a moderate temperature for a couple of hours, before spending 20 minutes at a high heat to make the skin crackle
While both methods have their merits, I typically prefer to go the slow roasting route. This is solely due to the fact that it results in a tender product with crunchy skin the likes of which you’ve never before seen. No, honestly, I don’t believe there’s a way to get crunchier crackling than this.
In the recipe below, I use the Slow Roasting method, and while the pork is finishing off in the oven I turn to my stove to prepare a sweet orange caramel sauce. It contrasts with the savouriness of the fat-dense Pork Belly, and works exceedingly well. As a side you can whip up some quick pan roasted potatoes. Bonus porky points if you cook them with bacon (Pommes de Terre aux Lardons, anyone?).
Ingredients for the Pork Belly
- 1kg (2.2lbs) Pork Belly, with skin on. Get it in a single piece.
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2tsp sea salt
- 3 tbsp olive oil
Ingredients for the Sauce
- 1/2 cup plain white sugar
- 4 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (avoid pulp, if you can)
- 2 tbsp of brandy or bourdon
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 tbsp of orange marmalade (Fancy making one yourself?)
- 1 tbsp of cornstarch
Roasting the Pig
- The day/night before cooking crush the fennel, black pepper, and sea salt together. Mix with the garlic and olive oil. Set aside for a moment.
- Score the Pork Belly’s skin with a razor sharp knife, making a diamond pattern. You should go deep enough to penetrate all of the skin, but not cut the fat. This’ll help the fat render in the oven, and it’ll stop the skin from tightening too much.
- Rub the spice mixture all over the Pork Belly, getting into the scored skin. Leave in the fridge covered overnight. If you don’t have that much time, an hour will do. More is always better, though don’t exceed the 24 hour mark.
- The next day, preheat the oven to 190C (375F). In the meantime, rub the Pork Belly once again with a pinch of salt and some more olive oil.
- Place the Pork Belly on a wire roasting tin and put in the oven for 30 minutes. If you don’t have a wired roasting tin, place it in a baking tray with some carrots beneath it. The carrots will prevent the pork from stewing in its own juices.
- Lower the heat to 175C (350f) and leave for another two hours.
- Turn the heat all the way up to 230C (450F) for a last half hour. This’ll make the skin crisp up. During this time prepare the sauce.
- Once you pull the Pork Belly out of the oven, let it rest for 15 minutes before cutting into it. Serve with a side of potatoes.
- In a small saucepan, stir the lemon and sugar over medium-high heat until it melts. Let it sit for a while until it turns a dark brown/red color. This might take anywhere between 7-10 minutes.
- Remove from the heat. While stirring, slowly add the orange juice and brandy. Put the saucepan back on the heat, and set it at medium. Allow it to simmer for 3 minutes.
- Stir in the broth and marmalade, and bring it back to a simmer. Let a third of the liquid evaporate – 15 minutes.
- In a ramekin or cup, mix the cornstarch with 2 and a half tbsp of water until the cornstarch dissolves. Add it to the caramel mixture and stir.
- Remove from the heat, season to taste, and serve it spooned over the Pork Belly.