I love pork belly, it’s super cheap and totally delicious if you do it right – crisp (not tooth shattering) crackling and meltingly tender meat underneath. I served this at The Breakfast Club on Friday and afterwards lots of people told me that they wouldn’t normally pick this on a menu, (don’t worry – the plates were clean so I can only assume they liked it). Why? I think it’s something to do with the visible fattiness – now a bit of fat never scared me, and the thing is, if you cook it long and slow enough, the fat melts into the meat and you’re left with delicious meat, rather than a thick layer of the stuff.
How to cook perfect pork belly? Well, as I said before, the secret is long, slow cooking BUT you also want that crisp crackling. So you need to put it in a really hot oven for about 30 minutes to get things going then turn it down to about 160C for another 2 or so hours. If your crackling is looking a little flaccid once cooked, you can always blast it under the grill for a few minutes to crisp up. This is also useful if you’re doing this in advance, as a short spell under the grill will warm the meat up too.
I took inspiration from eat like a girl and rubbed crushed fennel seeds and sea salt into the skin. Then I followed Jamie Oliver’s recipe – you roast the pork on a bed of onions and carrots – once the pork is cooked, use the vegetables to make a deeply savoury sauce.
What to serve with pork belly? We’re in proper comfort food territory here, so mash is almost obligatory. But you also need something sweet to cut through the aforementioned fat. I like braised red cabbage, but Ottolenghi serves his with a plum and ginger relish. Anything with apple is good too.
ps: We had this delightfully seasonal pear crumble cake for dessert with homemade ginger ice cream.