I’m sure there are many of you out there who, like myself, have experienced some pretty badly executed pork belly. For those of you who haven’t, well, you are most definitely the lucky ones. You see, a badly cooked piece of pork belly is very similar to eating an old welly, or so I can imagine.
Anyway, it’s bad enough if you experience this while cooking pork belly for yourself. We all know that disappointing feeling when you spend time making something that doesn’t taste how it should, but at least when cooking at home you can just throw that disaster dinner straight into the bin. I wasn’t so lucky. My first, and thank god, my only experience of bad, rubbery pork belly was in a dinner that a friend had cooked for me. Well not even cooked for me, but seeing as there was some leftover, I was given a bowl. Luckily the portion was not a big one, but every mouthful was like a slow form of torture for me. My parents brought me up with good manners so I politely ate the whole lot and thanked them for their efforts. I am no longer friends with this person, which I feel is for the best.
I did learn a vital thing during this experience though, and that was how to cook a good piece of pork belly. Slow cooking is the key here. Pork belly is a tough cut that requires a long but gentle cooking process in order to tenderise the meat, and allow the fat to melt down. The skin is the toughest part of the cut but if you follow my method you’ll end up with some pretty awesome crackling. Melt in the mouth pork with the addition of crushed garlic and fennel on top, perfect for a family dinner or a Sunday lunch.
1.2kg pork belly, bones in
3 tablespoons fennel seeds
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 and a half teaspoons salt
As many peeled and parboiled potatoes and carrots as you like!
- Preheat your oven to the highest possible temperature to begin with.
- Meanwhile, pour 3 tablespoons of fennel seeds into a frying pan and gently toast for a few minutes. Once toasted transfer into a pestle and mortar along with the salt, garlic and olive oil and grind into a thick but well blended paste. Set to one side.
- Using a sharp knife score the skin of the pork belly down to the meat making the cuts fairly close together. Get your garlic and fennel paste and rub all over the top of the pork belly making sure lots of the paste is pushed into the cuts.
- Put the pork in a large baking tray and then put into the centre of your very hot, preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until the skin begins to bubble. Turn temperature right down to gas mark 3/170C or 150C for fan assisted ovens, and cook for a further 1 hour and 20 minutes.
- Remove from oven and very carefully pour the parboiled potatoes and carrots in the pork juices around the pork belly. Make sure they are well coated in the pork fats and then return to the oven for a further hour, turning them once half way through their cooking time.
- Once out of the oven carefully remove the crackling from the pork and break it into smaller pieces. You should then be able to pull the pork belly apart very easily. Dish the veg up and get stuck in!