Pork belly is an intriguing cut of meat to roast at home, if only because there is no single agreed method to roast it. For most cuts, there is an underlying and often overwhelming consensus on the correct plan of attack. Not so with belly; probably because there is so much room to experiment and the ultimate goal is to balance the crispness of the skin and soft richness of the meat and fat to your individual preference.
It is difficult to get completely wrong and at various points in the cooking, can be saved from disaster. If the skin doesn’t become crisp, it can be cooked separately under the grill. Alternately, if the skin starts to bubble and blister before the meat is done, then turn down the oven. The payoff is huge and short of burning the meat to black carbon, the results echo an unreportable splendour on the table.
The most common preparation before it hits the oven is to score the skin with cuts through to the fat and rub in generous amounts of salt, and any aromatic herb or spice to taste. As for methods, here’s four that work.
Method 1: SBS/Gaté
In response to a reader’s question, Gabriel Gaté’s advice from last week was to:
Place a little moisture in a roasting tray, e.g. water, wine or stock, then place a rack in the tray. Place the meat, skin-side up, in the rack and cook in a low oven (at no more than 120°C) until the meat is tender. If you are not cooking the crackling separately, place the meat under a hot grill if necessary to finish the crackling just before serving.
Method 2: NY Times/Schneider
In the NY Times, Edward Schnieder suggests:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (220 degrees C). Roast the pork, skin side down, in a lightly oiled roasting pan for an hour (pour off accumulated fat every now and again). Turn the pork over, lower the heat to a little under 400 (200 degrees C) and roast for another 45 minutes or an hour, or until the skin is crackling crisp and the meat feels very tender when pierced with a pot fork or skewer. Once the roast is out of the oven, you can strip off the skin, scrape off the fat from the underside and return it (the skin) to the oven for five or ten minutes to get even crisper.
Method 3: Rival Australian TV Show
I’m attracted to this method because it is much more complex than necessary, a method that a chef with far too much time on their hands would dream up and attempt. It uses butcher's hooks to hang the pork within the oven which is a barrel of laughs to wrangle out of the oven when cooked. Asbestos forearms help. From The Cook and The Chef:
Preheat oven to 100C. Place a cup of water in a baking tray at the bottom of the oven. Hang the pork upright in front of the fan in the oven, the skin towards the fan and the pork hanging vertically so that the fat renders down through the piece and not into the skin. If the angle of the hang is such that the rendering fat drips into the skin, the skin will not crisp. Cook for about 50 minutes. In the last 10 minutes of cooking, increase the temp to 240C, this will give the skin a good crust. If the skin doesn’t blister, then remove from hooks and lay skin side up at the top of the oven and set your grill at 200C until blisters appear.
Method 4: Me
I discovered this a few weeks ago but it would be conceited to imagine that I’m the first person to roast pork belly in this manner. Preheat the oven to 130oC. After you’ve scored the skin and rubbed in the salt, place the belly skin-side down and wrap the meat in two layers of aluminium foil, forming a close fitting mould around the meat with only the skin exposed. Place on a baking tray, skin-side up, and roast until the internal temperature of the meat hits 65oC-70oC (about two hours). The aluminium foil both shields the meat from heat and keeps escaping juices and aromatic herbs (if you add them) close to meat, but away from the skin.
Got a better method? Share below.