Don’t be afraid, you haven’t stumbled onto a food blog by accident! You’re still in (Not) Just A Mummy airspace, just with a distinctly ‘foodie’ slant! While I often post recipes, I rarely post ‘How To’ guides. This is largely because I am not a food blogger or a chef and I don’t really know how to do much ‘fancy stuff’ when it comes to food. I’m a basic kinda gal who doesn’t own one of those cray cray blowtorch thingies for creating brûlée or even really know how to cook a souffle.
What I do know how to cook however is meat of all different types and pork belly is one of my favourites. I also get asked quite regularly HOW to cook ye olde belly de pork and I figured I may as well share my knowledge with the world so that you too can enjoy crispy cracking and deliciously tender meat.
People in general seem to be a little afraid of pork belly. I don’t know if it’s because it’s ‘belly’ and not ‘leg’ or ‘shoulder’ but there is definitely some trepidation around giving it a go. I too felt that way before I’d tried it. But driven by the desire for crackling, I decided to give it a go and it is now a staple on our menu. Not only is it amazingly simple to prepare and cook, it’s also one of those things you can kind of ‘leave’ to its own devices once you’ve popped it in the oven. It’s also very popular with husbands and hardcore carnivores alike.
Here’s how I do it.
1. Choose the best quality belly you can find – Like with anything, choosing a really prime cut of meat will always taste better. I either purchase mine from Aldi (when they have free range pork belly in stock) or from the local butcher.
2. Remove the belly from the wrapping the morning you want to cook it – If your belly in encased in plastic of some description, it’s going to have started sweating/beading up with the temperature in the fridge. This will impact the crispiness of the crackling so it’s important to get the pork as dry as humanely possible. I usually line a plate or chopping board with absorbent kitchen paper, take the pork out of its package and sit it on top, covering it with a few more sheets of paper. I then usually replace the sheets halfway through the day.
3. Bring the meat to room temperature – Though I sometimes forget to do this, it always seems to help. I try to take the meat out of the fridge around an hour before I want to cook it. This allows some more moisture to absorb and helps the marinade really take.
4. Ensure you’ve scored the skin – Scoring the skin is the key to that delicious, peel off-able, crackling. Most pieces of pork belly will be pre-scored but you may want to go over them again to lengthen or deepen the cuts. Remember to keep the cuts to the skin (and not down into the meat itself). Pork belly is TOUGH. You will need a very sharp knife (I often use a (clean) stanley knife).
5. Marinade, marinade, marinade – There are SO many marinades you can choose for pork. Everything from the super simple (salt and olive oil), to the very complex (think spices, herbs and a whole bunch of weird and wonderful ingredients). I usually use a mix of sea salt, olive oil, black pepper, fennel seeds, garlic and lemon juice. I mash this all up in a mortar and pestle.
6. Massage in that marinade – Around half an hour before you want to cook, massage your marinade into the belly. You REALLY want to work that marinade in. Push it right into the slits in the skin and make sure you’ve covered every little bit of the belly.
7. Preheat the oven – You need a VERY hot oven to start off with. I usually switch mine on to around 230C for 15 minutes before I pop the belly in. The hotter the oven, the crispier your skin will get. Whatever you do, don’t preheat the oven then open it up and faff around before putting your pork in. As soon as you open your oven, all that lovely heat will rush out and you’ll end up undoing all your hard work.
7. Place your belly on a nice big tray – Some recipes recommend you place the belly onto some sliced onion. I have done it both ways and don’t really have a preference. I prefer a large tray as I whack my veggies in with the belly at a later time.
8. Final pre-oven prep – Before I put the pork into the hot oven, I like to sprinkle over a little more salt and a drizzle of olive oil and lemon. You don’t have to do this but I think it just brings out all the deliciousness.
9. Pop your belly into the oven – Quickly and carefully place the belly into the oven and immediately drop the temp. I usually drop it down to 180C.
10. Cook and enjoy – Depending on the size of your belly and strength of the oven, pork can take anywhere from an hour to two to fully cook. I usually just keep an eye on it and when things start to look nice and crispy, I remove it from the heat, cover in foil and let rest for maybe 5 minutes. A good rule of thumb is to see whether the crackling comes away easily. If it does, you’re sorted.
I usually serve my pork belly with roast veggies and a green salad (to balance out all that richness). There are SO many things you can serve it alongside though.
Have you cooked pork belly before? Any secret tips and tricks for a great result?