Crispy pork belly with fennel & sage
A pork belly joint is something I've really struggled to get hold of in France. On the rare occasion I have seen it, it's always rindless. Weirdly enough, pork belly slices are all over the place, but getting a whole joint is harder. There are three butchers in my town. One gets their meat pre-butchered so couldn't give me anything they didn't already have in. And the other two are real butchers but are halal so obviously wouldn't be selling pork!
In the time I've been here, Carrefour has had pork belly joints in twice. The first time, it was rindless so I cured some for bacon, turned some into Chinese barbecue pork, and cut off the ribs for fall off the bone instant pot ribs. That was a tasty joint! Fast forward a year, and Carrefour has pork belly in again, but this time with rind. Needless to say, I bought every pack they had in store. They only had two in stock, which is probably for the best!
Which brings me to my recent pork belly cooking. I did one Western style and one Asian style. Both turned out really well, with perfectly crispy crackling.
Turn the sound up to hear the crackling!
There are many different ways to get crackling. I've tried various ones over the years with mixed success:
- Scoring, pouring over boiling water, then drying and leaving uncovered in the fridge. This worked sometimes
- Drying, rubbing with oil and covering in salt. This created the best crackling but didn't always work. It sometimes needed a lot of time to crisp up too
Then someone shared a new method with me which has created perfect crackling every time. It's almost glass like because it doesn't bubble up the way the skin does other times I've made it. I've seen this trick from several Chinese chefs and it does seem to work. I've tried doing it overnight, and over the course of a few hours. Both worked well.
Start off by drying and salting the rind well. Every few hours, dry off the water that's been drawn out, and salt it again. Keep the pork uncovered in the fridge when doing this. This is also the ideal time to marinate the pork flesh if you'd like. Make sure the marinade doesn't touch the rind though. For the Western pork belly, I used fennel and sage. Fennel works so well with pork. For the Asian style pork, I used light soy, dark soy, rice wine, sweet chilli sauce and star anise. Use whatever you like though!
Then comes the cooking. After drying off the water for a final time, rub white vinegar into the rind. This sounds weird but seems to be fool proof. You can't taste it in the finished product. Put it in a hot oven (220C for me) for 30 minutes, then turn the heat down to cook it through. For the Western style pork, I slow cooked it at 150C for a few hours until the meat could be pulled apart with a fork. I wanted a firmer texture for the Asian pork so I could carve it into cubes. This was more like 180C for another 90 minutes. It was still tender, but held its shape.
Asian style crispy pork belly, rice wine braised cabbage, glazed carrots with star anise
Pork belly always feels so indulgent, but it's worth it. And the great thing about sharing a joint between two of us, is that it's no more expensive than a meal for two anyway (pork belly with rind is sold as "boiling pork" here - it's basically offcuts for stock!) and there's loads leftover. Think warm Asian salads, hot sandwiches with garlic mayo, and a pork and veg stir fry (cooked in the lard of course!). Not healthy, but very flavourful. The crackling went soggy in the fridge but crisped up again in a hot pan.
Warm crispy pork salad with sesame dressing