Ok, i’ll admit it. I love pork belly! It’s a real carnivore’s choice with its crisp skin, chewy fat and tender, juicy meat packed full of flavour. It’s also easy on the wallet and really simple to prepare…so whats not to like?
Pork is, perhaps, the supreme winter meat and has some wonderful cuts for stuffing and roasting. The tender fillets and loins, prized for their white, succulent meat, are perfect for pan frying or grilling but it also has some excellent, flavoursome odds and ends in the shape of totters, knuckles and cheeks for braising and robust stews but I sometimes think that if I could have only one piece of meat it would be a piece of pork belly. Many kitchen savvy, home cooks already know how succulent, tender and flavourful this cut of pork can be when cooked properly, so here’s a couple of tips for the perfect pork belly.
Firstly, the skin needs to be as dry as possible. Keeping the joint in a cold, dry fridge overnight will help the drying process, and keeping it uncovered will ensure no condensation forms. Scoring the skin increases the surface area exposed to the heat of the oven, so that more of it crisps up, and not scoring too deeply prevents any meat juices from bubbling up and making the skin soggy. Salting the meat well before cooking is very important and does two things: it draws moisture from the surface, allowing salt to enter the meat and season it, along with any flavourings; and the salt also affects the protein structure, which softens and tenderises the meat.
I also think bringing the meat to room temperature before roasting is important with a large piece of meat as it ensures even cooking throughout, preventing the outside from over-cooking and drying out before the inner meat is fully cooked. When cooking, a blast of high heat at the start of roasting lifts the rind from the meat, moving it away from the moisture rich meat and keeping it dry for crackling to form. I often just whack it in a very hot oven, leave it for 20 minutes or so, then turn the heat down and let it cook very slowly. Lastly, resting the pork belly will allow the juices to thicken and then redistribute within the meat, meaning they won’t all flood out when carved.
· 2 kg boneless pork belly
· 50ml olive oil
· 1tbsp sea salt flakes
· 4 rosemary sticks, finely chopped
Preheat an oven to 220ºC/gas mark 7.
Score the fat on top of the belly with a sharp knife, being sure not to cut into the meat. Rub the chopped rosemary, olive oil and sea salt into the pork skin.
Roast the belly in the oven for 30 minutes, until the skin on top has crisped up, then reduce the heat to 160ºC/gas mark 3 and roast for another 2 hours until the skin is golden and crunchy.
Rest the pork belly for 20 minutes under a sheet of tin foil, then carve into portions and serve with celeriac & potato mash.
Celeriac & potato mash
· 400g potatoes, peeled and diced
· 800g celeriac, peeled and diced
· 2 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
· 40g butter
· 150 ml cream or crème fraîche
· Sea salt and freshly milled black pepper
Cook celeriac in large pot of boiling salted water 5 minutes and then add the potatoes and garlic cloves to pot; cook for about 20 minutes until tender. Drain well and return the vegetables to the pot; stir over medium-high heat until dry, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add the butter. Using the braun purée attachment, mash the vegetables until the butter is incorporated. Add the cream and puree until almost smooth. Season with salt and pepper.