Never Fail - Slow Roasted Pork Belly With Perfect Crackling
Updated: Feb 20
There is little that warms the soul quite like pork crackling. Crunchy, juicy, salty, savoury goodness. Add a dollop of sweet, sharp & soft apple sauce and it's quite literally a party in the mouth!
Far from being the healthiest of dishes, Pork Belly is the reserve of Sunday Dinner in our house, it doesn't need to be a special occasion, just being Sunday will do.
As such a forgiving meat to cook with, it's perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon where you can take all the time you want to prepare the full array of accompaniments like cauliflower -cheese (see our easy cheesy sauce for a cheeky shortcut on that one), Spring Onion Mash, Yorkshire pudding and Sage & Onion stuffing ("Do you want stuffing?" still manages to get a titter at the Sunday dinner table despite being used repeatedly for the last 30 years). I can even be persuaded to break the rules and serve Yorkshire pudding and onion gravy with Belly Pork (Yorkshire puddings without beef? oh the horror!). Get that pork right and you'll hear little more than the chinking of cutlery and the grunts and murmuring of satisfaction from your oh so lucky family or guests.
But get it right you must! And that's what this recipe is all about. Such is my love for this cut of meat, I cooked it 52 Sundays in a row to get it right, yes, one whole year. It's fair to say we had chicken for a few weeks after that for a break.
However, I cooked it every which way I could find to minimise the risk of failure and ensure that I had a go-to Sunday dinner extravaganza at my disposal for whenever the need might arise, and it has, a few times. Lucky for you, I think 2 or 3 times to adjust for your oven and local Pork Belly quality and you'll be an instant master.
Before we begin, a quick word on selecting a good piece of Pork Belly. It's not rocket science, but here's what I look for:
Skin - Make sure it's got a consistent thickness around 1-2mm (I don't know what that is in sixteenths of inches but google does). Too thin it just won't crackle, too thick and the meat will be dry by the time it does.
Fat is flavour but you're going to melt most of it so don't pick the piece that's all fat or you'll have nothing left. Also don't pick a piece that's all meat, think about Pork Belly as the self basting meat, pork without fat is dry and nasty. The best piece is where most of the fat is in a thick line directly under the skin, as it melts away it will baste the meat below and it will serve to get that crackling super crispy
Scoring - A bit controversial this one, a lot of Pork Belly will come pre-scored or your butcher will offer to score it for you. This is a matter of personal taste but personally, I'm firmly against any scoring of the skin. This is going to be a slow cook so I don't want the fat to disappear upwards, I want it to melt downwards through the meat.
Either way, don't put too much effort in, just use those three tips to help you select between the available pieces and you'll be alright. If you're buying at a decent place, you'll struggle to get an unusable piece of Pork Belly.
Ok, so you've chosen your weapon, time to get down to business:
Ingredients & Equipment (Serves 4 hungry people):
1kg /2lb Pork Belly (Free range / high welfare if you can get it)
1 Large Roasting Tin with a rack to allow air to move around underneath
Kitchen Roll / Paper Towels
Lay the pork on top of the rack in the roasting tin
Dab the skin dry with a paper towel (This is very important)
Sprinkle salt all over the now dry skin. Don't worry about over salting, the skin will prevent the salt going into the meat too much
Leave to stand for 20 minutes while the oven heats up (Don't put it in the oven now)
Set the oven to hot - 230c / 450f
After 20 minutes has passed and the oven is up to temperature, take another paper towel and wipe off the moisture that the salt has drawn out of the skin and dry the skin well. Don't worry if all the salt goes with it, that was just to draw out moisture.
Salt the skin again
Place the tray with the pork in the middle of the oven (or where it will fit, just not too close to the sides or it will cook unevenly)
Leave for 30 minutes but check after 20, there should be no signs of burning on the pork, if the edges do look as though they're starting to blacken, go straight to the next step. if not, wait until 30 minutes has passed.
Turn the oven down to 165c / 330f
leave to cook whilst you prepare all the other accompaniments to go with your dinner and marvel over the smell of roasting pork!
After an hour of turning down the oven, check on the crackling to see if it has blistered and is golden. A good test is to tap in the top with the back of a knife, it should sound crispy and a little hollow. If it's still gelatinous, leave for another half an hour and repeat.
Continue this process until the skin is crackled just a little less than perfect. If it looks like it needs another 10 minutes, it's ready
Remove from the oven and rest for 15 minutes. This will allow the excess fat to drain which will cause the crackling to harden further to perfection.
At this point, do not be tempted to put the pork back in a low oven to keep warm or the skin will turn soggy, once rested it's fine to loosely cover with foil, it will keep warm for at least another 30 minutes before serving.
To slice, turn the pork crackling side down and cut through from the back, with a sharp knife you should hear a reassuring crack when you cut through the crackling. Cutting this way will mean your crackling will be evenly distributed across your slices..
Serve to the sound of "Oohs" and "Aahs" followed by the sound of crunching and satisfaction
Top Tips & Tricks
Crackling time can vary wildly due to thickness and fat content. If you're worried about the meat being dry, pour a little water in the bottom of the roasting dish whilst cooking, it will steam the meat slightly from underneath to buy you some more time to wait for the crackling.
If you haven't figured it out by now, drying the skin at the start is the secret. It gives you a 90% chance of a good crackle, it can be a bit of a lottery if you don'[t dry the skin. As it speeds up the process it should make sure your meat is soft and the remaining fat is unctuous (good word) and full of flavour.
Pork Belly is rich with a capital R. You don't need loads of it so don't go crazy with the portions or you'll over face your guests, resulting in an early night with some antacid! You can always save some for seconds if people really want it..
To cut through the richness, always try and compliment the dish with something a little sharp, apple sauce works great. I also often splash a little balsamic or raspberry vinegar into the gravy to help it cut through the richness. Red cabbage also works well if you enjoy it.
Don't be tempted to turn up the heat to speed up the process this will kind of work but as you get further into the cooking, the fat released is going to smoke at high heat and you're going to taste that smoke in the finished dish. Not pleasant.
Don't forget to de-glaze the tray to add to the gravy, that's a free flavour upgrade. Just pour off the fat, put the tray on the hob and add a small glass of wine to lift all the burnt bits of flavour off the pan, add to your gravy before you season it as remember there will be salt in the tray.
The fat can be retained and used for cooking, just be aware, it's super high calorie and now full of salt so use sparingly.
Most of all enjoy, once you've done this a couple of times, you'll see how easy it is to cook Pork Belly perfectly every time. A true crowd pleaser for your cooking arsenal.
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