It took me a while to build up the courage to do some cooking with pork belly, as there always seemed a bit of mystery about whether it needed to be twice cooked. Well, I’ve finally done it and wonder now why I waited so long!
Pork belly is a fatty cut taken from – as the name suggests – the belly of a pig. It has three distinctive layers – a thin layer of skin, thick ribbons of silky fat, and streaks of reddish-pink meat.
It has many different uses due to its desirable fat-to-meat ratio and flat, wide shape. The fat-to-meat ratio lends itself to long, slow cooking methods that renders the fat and turns the tough connective tissue meltingly tender. The flat shape enables it to be rolled around other ingredients. The skin on the outside, when cooked correctly, gives that beautiful crispy crackling.
Popular in many cultures, pork belly combines well with a wide range of different flavours. In Asian cuisine, it is often used in braised dishes, while South Americans commonly deep fry it and eat it as a crispy snack food. Western cultures cure it – it becomes bacon, as well as enjoying it slow cooked with delicious crackling.
Here’s a few tips to get the best from cooking with pork belly
- Score the piece of pork belly using a very sharp knife.
- Lay the pork belly, skin-side up, on a rack in a roasting dish.
- Rub with oil and sprinkle with salt. This process helps the fat run out and the skin to crispen.
- Transfer to a heated oven. Pork belly needs a combination of slow gentle heat to tenderise the meat, plus a shorter blast at a higher temperature to crisp up the skin.
- Follow your specific recipe for times and temperatures or cook at 180C / fan 160C for 2 hours 15 minutes then turn up the oven to to 200C / fan 180C for a further 35 minutes to crisp the crackling.
- Once cooked and tender (this can be easily tested by piercing the flesh with a knife), remove pork from the oven, then leave to rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.