Have you ever had pork belly before? If you’re not sure, perhaps a simpler question will answer it: have you ever had bacon before? Bacon is a cured, (often) smoked, and then thinly sliced pork belly…so that should give you a vague sense of what this cut of meat is about. It can be a tough cut so it requires a bit of time to cook properly (low and slow is the way to go…I could keep rhyming), but when done right, it is incredibly rich and flavorful–oh and the roughly 50% fat striated throughout the meat also doesn’t hurt. This is the cut of meat for pork lovers who aren’t afraid of a succulent meal (if you’re strictly a chicken breast and/or pork tenderloin type, this might be a stretch).
For this particular preparation, rather than braising the belly (commonly done in an Asian style), I chose to roast mine. I started with a strong spice rub and an ~8 hour marinade followed by a slow roast. The result is a zesty flavor with incredibly crisp skin (crackling is delicious on its own–here, its a bonus) and melt in your mouth meat encased inside. And when I say “melt in your mouth,” I don’t just mean its kind of tender–this literally just falls apart in your mouth. Its juicy, unctuous, spicy, earthy, incredibly porky, delicately sweet—really something awesome.
I prepared a simple gravy to go alongside the roast belly, highlighted with a good touch of thyme, garlic, and dijon. I also served potatoes (cooked under the belly in the drippings) and a salad. If there was ever a meal where some sort of greens are an essential pairing, this is it!
- ~4 lb pork belly
- Spice rub
- Yellow mustard
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 1/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 5 juniper berries
- 5-7 whole cloves
- 3 whole star anise
- 3 green cardamom pods
- 1-2 dried chilis
- 3/4 tsp brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/4 tsp celery seeds
- 1/4 cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp annato seeds
- Garlicky Thyme and Dijon Gravy
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1/3 cup drippings
- 1 shallot
- 6 cloves garlic
- big handful fresh thyme
- 2.5 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 2 tsp dijon
Begin by cleaning the pork belly. You may find hair and the like, so slice/singe it if you do. Running your knife across the skin like a straight razor can be helpful here.
Then, score the skin deeply with your knife in a cross-hatch pattern. This is a necessity for the skin to cook properly and to help render some of the fat.
Grind all of the dry spices for the spice rub coarsely. Rub the belly all over with a small dab of mustard and hoisin. While this adds a small amount of flavor, it will help hold the spice rub. Speaking of which, rub the spices all over the belly (more on the fleshy side than the skin side).
Let this sit to marinate in the fridge for a minimum of 8 hours.
Remove the belly from the fridge for an hour so it can come to room temperature. Then, on a rack in a roasting pan, roast it skin side up in a 450°F oven for 10 minutes. After that, drop the temperature to 325°F for 3 hours more. If at the end of that, the skin isn’t blistered, bubbly, and crispy looking, give the belly roughly 5 minutes under the broiler (on the highest setting). Keep a close watch during this time as the belly can very quickly go from crisp to burnt.
Remove the belly from the oven and give it some time to cool a bit. While you wait, prepare the gravy.
In a saucepan, warm 1/3 cup of the drippings from the roast over medium heat before you add the flour and very finely minced shallot. Whisk for roughly 5 minutes to form a slightly tan roux. Throw the garlic in for a minute and then beat in the white wine, stock, salt, pepper, thyme, and dijon, continuing to cook for roughly 5-10 minutes more until nicely thickened.
Finally, time to serve. Cut yourself a slightly smaller portion of belly than you would typically of other meats–you’ll find yourself overwhelmed by the richness. Enjoy!