I love stretching different writing muscles. Also eating. And cooking. I’m also a fan of Things Going My Way and life generally taking an upswing. When things are looking up, celebrate with food. When things start going your way, keep learning, keep pushing yourself. The more I write about food, the more people pop up to tell me to keep going. Now things are moving in a direction other than just towards the fridge. Hooray!
Enough cryptic rambling. Sorry – I’m hungry. I’m about to make you hungry too by reliving last night’s game-changing pork belly.
“Game changing” is also funny because something something football.
Having been brought up in a Jewish home, I still consider myself relatively new to cooking pork. Without getting my parents in to some sort of social ‘trouble’, they kept a kosher kitchen when I was growing up, and the occasional taste of bacon as part of a ‘naughty hotel breakfast’ made anything porky a special treat.
And what a special treat this is.
I’ve only cooked pork belly twice before. The first time I ever ate it was at a long-table tasting evening at the brilliant Hampstead Butcher & Providore. Served on the most perfectly-cooked couscous (I was told it was cooked in stock, which made it so flavourful and delicious that I have genuinely not cooked it any other way since), the belly had the perfect combination of salty, crunchy puffy crackling with soft, succulent slowly-roasted meat beneath. It has become one of those meals that has lingered in my thoughts, passed in to part of my personal legend. One of those meals you remember. Also there was a cheese course and loads of free wine.
I digress. I tried to recreate that perfectly-puffed up pork belly once before, using some steps from a Jamie Oliver forum. It was ‘OK’, but it was not The One. My office is situated in a traditionally Jewish neighbourhood, and the nearby shops predictably struggle to sell much pork, reducing it for quick sale. I spotted a pack of 6 belly strips and decided it was time to try again.
Rather than list ingredients and try to write A Proper Recipe this time, I’m just going to list the steps I took. I served this with couscous (cooked in stock, always. Always.) with tiny chopped bits of chorizo, raw red onion, lemon juice and tomato stirred through it. I add the bits and pieces before adding the stock to the couscous, so it all heats up together and the flavours muddle and season the grains.
Perfectly puffy pork belly
1 – Heat the oven to 200 degrees
2 – Score a few lines in to the rinds of each strip of pork belly.
3 – In a dish, cover the pork in boiling water, making sure the rind is covered.
4 – Drain after a minute, and pat dry using paper towels.
5 – Drizzle the pork skin with a little olive oil, rubbing to coat.
6 – Sprinkle sea salt on to the rinds, and rub the crystals to get in to the scored lines and stick to the oil.
7 – Set the belly strips skin-side-up on a wire rack over a tray – a grill pan is fine. Cook at high temperature for 10-15 minutes. This is what is going to help that rind really puff up and make amazing crackling. It will smoke, and steam up your oven door, but stick with it. Be brave.
8 – Bring the temperature down to 150 degrees and continue to cook for 30-40 minutes longer. Keep an eye on the meat and check it’s not over-cooking or drying out. Don’t be scared of the crackling starting to brown and toughen up. That’s what we want…
9 – Once the meat is looking pretty much done, give it a 5 minute blast under the grill to bring up that crackling. It will hiss and sizzle and crackle. There’s your clue. When it crackles. Crackling. See? Let it stand for a few minutes (really, not just to photograph it), and serve with couscous and some fresh herbs. (I used parsley and coriander mixed with some fresh lemon juice).
I like to keep the rest of the plate fresh and green as belly is kind of fatty and indulgent. Balance. And pretty colours. Enjoy!