Belly pork with awesome crackling

Being Chinese, my whole family is obsessed with belly pork. Some of my earliest memories are of us eating my Mum’s highly spiced Chinese style belly pork and crunching my way through shards of crackling. One year I lost a filling to a particularly crispy bit but it hasn’t stopped me eating it.

My mum has perfected her style of belly pork in a turbo broiler (or a halogen oven to you and me)  and it’s the dish we request the most when my brother and I go to visit. I’ve often tried to cook it but without much success – the meat is either too dry or the fat hasn’t rendered down properly or the skin is tough rather than crunchy but I think I cracked it this weekend.

I’ve given up attempting to copy my mother’s 5 spice marinade so I instead looked to Yotam Ottolenghi for inspiration. His recipe called for a garlic and herb marinade and a crazily hot oven and a lot of time to spare. I started cooking at 4pm and we were finally ready to eat at 8:20pm! The meat was soft and yielding, the fat had rendered down and the crackling…. Wow. The last hour of cooking is to completely dry the crackling out and it really made a difference. Don’t be tempted to skimp on this step. It’s truly worth every second.

1 bunch of thyme, roughly chopped
1 bunch of rosemary, roughly chopped
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and crushed
150ml olive oil
1 piece of pork belly, weighing 2–3kg
1 bottle of white wine
coarse sea salt and black pepper

Heat the oven to 250°C/Gas Mark 10 or its highest setting. Place the herbs, garlic and olive oil in a heavy-duty blender or food processor and purée them roughly.

Lay the pork belly in an oven tray, skin-side down, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Use your hands to spread the herb mixture evenly all over the top, pressing it on so it sticks to the meat.

Turn the belly skin-side up, wipe the skin dry with kitchen paper and sprinkle sea salt evenly all over the skin (but don’t put too much on,
as it might create a crust and prevent the crackling forming). Put the tray in the oven and roast for 1 hour, turning the tray around every
20 minutes. Once the skin has formed some crackling, turn the oven down to 170°C/Gas Mark 3, pour the white wine into the tray (avoiding the pork skin) and continue roasting for another hour. If the belly starts turning black, cover it with foil.

For the last cooking stage, turn the oven down to 110°C/Gas Mark ¼ and continue roasting for another hour, until the skin has crackled completely and thoroughly dried.

Remove the pork from the oven. Use a sharp knife to divide it into segments of a few ribs, cutting between the rib bones.

Belly pork

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