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Roast Belly Pork

2008/10/13

Roast Belly Pork

  • 1 Pork Belly, c. 6 ribs worth from the thick end, c. 1.5kg (feeds 6-8 easily)
  • Salt, pepper
  • Five spice or fennel seeds or thyme (all optional)
  • High (220c) Oven for 30 minutes; then low oven (160c) for 60 minutes, check with oven thermometer (70c/160F) /check crackling status and rest for 30 minutes.

I’ve now cooked this dish I think some where above 30 times and I’m feeling happy with its consistency.

The first major thing to get right is the quality of the pork. If it is not first rate, I suggest you simply forget it.

I recommend all the rare breed pigs. My approximate order of preference is

Middle White, Berkshire, Lop, Gloucester Old Spot, Tamworth

But frankly, they are all very tasty. The order of preference is probably the rough order of average fat content as well, so if you like leaner pork, I’d go for the Tamworth. At this level, time of year (eg apple orchard eating pigs) and even gender of the pig (males having a slightly stronger flavour on average) will make a difference in the flavour.

If you can’t obtain rare breed, Waitrose does a crossbreed, I think, and most supermarkets will do a free range or organic, which can pass but really it is worth trying to source a good pig.

If you are up for it, one farmer I have used is Richard Vaughan of Huntsham farm, who supplies middle white pig to many of the UK’s top restaurant’s. He will do you a quarter or half pig by overnight delivery and butcher it to your liking. His beef (chosen by Heston Blumenthal) and lamb are also top notch. Call 01600 890296.

In London, I recommend Kingsland (currently with a good supplier of Berkshire, ring ahead to secure belly – 140 Portbello 020 7727 6067) or Ginger Pig (who mainly seem to stock Old Spot but have been known to have the occasional Middle White).

So, how much to order? Allow for c. 1 rib per hungry person for a medium sized pig cut from the thick end. I’ve done just 2 ribs for a small meal for 2-4 people and it still works.

How to prepare? Many cooks use different tricks. Some use a hairdryer to dry the skin. Some blanche the skin with boiling water. Most score the skin but some prick it and others do nothing. Each brings slight different qualities.

As I serve the crackling separate, I score the skin into the fat layer but try not to score into the meat. I score lines around 0.5 to 1cm apart and then I leave it out of the fridge in a cool place over night, to dry out the skin.

[However, the method used more in Chinese cooking of, blanching the skin with boiling water, pricking and then drying, can also work. It is a slightly less fatty cut that tends to come out and you don’t serve the crackling separate.]

I then rub the exposed cut meat side with either just pepper or five spice powder (for an Asian flavour) or crushed fennel seeds or nothing.

When you are 30 minutes away from wanting to put the pork in the oven, make sure you preheat the oven to around 220c.

Then rub salt and pepper into the skin and one can also add thyme or fennel seeds as optional.

Roast for c. 30 minutes at the high temp. You can cut this down to 20 minutes for a small joint or increase to 45 minute for a large joint or if the crackling seemed a little damp.

Then turn the oven down to 160c and cook for another 45 to 60 minutes. I would start testing the pork with a thermometer from 45 minutes (and then every 15mins) or from when all the crackling looks done. If in doubt, you can also cut into the pork. The meat is cooked when the internal temperature reaches 70c or 160F (but for more well done meat, you can go on longer), no bugs will survive that.

This produce a good balance between the browning, crispy flavours that high heat generates and the soft melting meat that low temperate (a la Blumental) generates.

If at all possible you must allow to stand for 30 minutes. This allows the fibres to relax and release back moisture into the joint.

I cut the crackling off first to serve separate (and you can give it a blast in the oven if it hasn’t all risen). Then the supporting ribs, and then slice along the line of the ribs (NOT the other way as this for reasons of texture makes the pork seem tougher, again see McGee or Blumental).

Serve with rice or mash for a rich meal or a watercress salad for something a little lighter. Barolo, Pinot Noir, and in fact most red wines go well with this dish, in my view.

Variations

Some times I cook vegetables (eg peppers) or onions round the joint, which can go into a gravy or served up later.

Some cooks will add a cup of water or wine, after the 30 minute blast. This will produce a thin gravy and can help keep the pork moist. But generally also prolongs cooking time and can interfere with the crackling, which may need crisping up separately after.

Jamie Oliver has a recipe where the pork is place of cut up onions. This also can produce a thin gravy and creates caramelised porky onions, but I’ve found the meat tends to dry a little more with this method, presumably because of the fiercer circulation of air in my oven.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 2008/10/13 2:44 pm

    Thanks for this – one of my favourite meals when I am eating out, precisely because I haven’t managed to master it myself at home as yet! I do tend to baste my roasting joints fairly often – that crackling versus meat drying out debate is a tough one (literally sometimes!) because I love crackling with a passion. You obviously didn’t find it too dry without basting? I guess a good, fairly fatty pig helps there too.

    I’ll be writing up my first attempt with wood pigeon this week at http://discoverunearthed.wordpress.com and watercress and a Pinot Noir may well feature there too….

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