Slow Roasted Pork Belly
With so much talk of braises and shanks around the cooking blogosphere, coupled with cooling temperatures, my thoughts have naturally strayed to belly pork.
Once upon a time in the bad old days, you could only find it in Chinatown. Now every menu aspiring to gastronomic chic lists it, and every scallop in town wants a date with it. The humble piglet tummy has well and truly ‘arrived’ in contemporary culinary consciousness.
I’ve tried gazillions of recipes for roasted pork belly, ranging from newspaper lift-outs, the Women’s Weekly, featuring a variety of marinated, exotic flavours or plain, cooked at varying temperatures, and incorporating the full range of degrees of complexity But this is the one I consistently return to. Why? Because it tastes fantastic, has a difficulty level only slightly higher than boiling water, and you can watch a good movie while it cooks. It comes from Britain’s antidote to Gordon Ramsay, the gentle and polite Garry Rhodes from his Cookery Year collection (telly repeats currently playing at about 3am on ABC - and no I don't stay up to watch them :).
Get a 1 kg piece of pork belly with the rind still on (I reckon the absolute best place to buy this is from a Chinese butcher in Haymarket, or your local Chinatown). Peel 2 fairly large onions and cut them in half. Lay the onions, cut side down, in a baking dish. They will form a trivet and keep the pork from touching the hot dish. Score the pork skin with a very sharp knife at about 1 cm intervals lengthways and rub with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place the pork on the onions, add a little water to the bottom of the dish, and bake at 160°C for 2 ½ - 3 hours.
Check it every so often. The alchemy that happens involves the pork skin slowly crisping to a magnificently crunchy crackling, and the fat from the layers dissolving out, not only basting the pork constantly, but basting the slowly caramelising onions underneath.
Add more water to the dish in small amounts so the juices that run out don’t scorch. Never baste the top of the crackling, just keep adding water to the baking dish.
At the end of the cooking time, remove the pork and let it rest, remove the onions and take the rendered fat off the top of the juices (you can scrape the dish and make a jus with these juices by adding wine and water and reducing them down further).
Cut the crackling off the pork ready to snap into deafeningly crispy shards of crunchy delight, and cut the pork against the grain into serving pieces which will be meltingly juicy. Serve with your favourite winter veggies, or make a scallop’s day and sear it and chuck it on top.