A woman I didn’t know walked up to me at the coffee shop this morning and said, “pork belly!”
And I was like, yes! Pork belly! As if it made perfect sense as a sort of salutation/introduction to our imminent conversation. She was British and wanted to know where to get some – it’s not exactly a mainstream cut in these parts, where you’d be hard pressed to find any piece of pig with the skin still attached. For crackling lovers, this is a problem.
If you’re a fan of crispy bits and can find yourself a slab of pork belly, knowing how to cook it will make any carnivores in the immediate vicinity very, very happy. (Presuming you plan to share, that is.) It’s a cinch to cook, and a prime example of what happens when you take a good piece of meat and apply heat. So simple. To be honest, this belly never even made it to the table – we just stood around the stovetop, tearing it apart with our fingers when it was barely cool enough to handle.
The trick is in the crackling; I read recently a technique where you rub the skin with baking soda to mess with the ph and encourage browning (it helps with the Maillard reaction by producing a more alkaline environment) and kickstart the breakdown of proteins in the skin, then leave the slab uncovered on a rack in the fridge overnight to dry it out somewhat. Because I rarely have the wherewithal to plan a day ahead, I skipped this step, but tried it with chicharrones.
(If you do it, rinse the baking soda off and pat the skin dry before you cook the belly.)
This is the way to straight-up roast your piece of meat, with lots of crispy crackling on top. If you like, maximize the rendered fat and the heat of the oven by tossing some potatoes into the pan around the meat halfway through the cooking time. (I’m still getting to know my new oven, and so may have blasted my poor little potatoes a little too much. Ahem.)
Crispy Roast Pork Belly
one 2 lb. piece of pork belly
canola or olive oil
a few sprigs fresh thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, halved and sliced
1-2 small heads garlic, left whole and halved crosswise
1/2 lb. (250 g) new potatoes, halved if needed (optional)
Pat the pork belly dry and score the skin with a sharp knife in both directions, without cutting all the way through to the meat. Rub the garlic clove over the surface of the pork, drizzle with oil and rub all over. Pull the leaves off a couple sprigs of thyme and sprinkle overtop; drizzle with a little more oil. Let the meat stand for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450?F and place the onions in the bottom of a roasting pan. Place the pork belly on top and place a couple sprigs of thyme and the halved garlic around it; drizzle the exposed garlic with a little oil and roast for 30 minutes. Turn the heat down to 300?F and continue to roast for 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is tender and the skin is crisp. If you like, toss a few new potatoes into the pan around the meat, shaking it up to coat them with the rendered fat, about three quarters of the way through the cooking time.
Let rest on a cutting board before slicing. Serves 4-6.