Everyone loves great crackling – good crackling is crispy and light, its sinful, delicious and very moreish. Everyone also seems to have their own special theory on what it takes to achieve sublime crackling. Personally, I think it’s all in the preparation of the pork belly in the first place. Once that’s taken care of – the rest of the dish is a snap – put it in the oven and virtually forget about it for a few hours if you can ignore the wonderful aromas wafting through the house. I like to roast pork belly using fennel with my aromatics – to maximise flavour I like to also use a herb and spice rub taking care to season the pork flesh only.
Preparing the Pork Belly in 3 easy steps
My secret to sublime pork crackling can be summed up in three words – scoring, blanching, drying
For the very best crackling you need to start this recipe the day before. But I must confess that on occasion I have been caught out, and have only allowed about two hours for the pork belly to dry in the fridge after blanching.
- Scoring. Starting the day or night before take the 2 kg piece of pork belly. Using a very sharp knife (a stanley knife is perfect for this job) score the rind without cutting through to the meat – vertically, horizontally or even in a criss cross pattern, it really doesn’t matter. This allows the heat to render the fat beautifully. If you cut too deep and reach the meat, you will allow juices to escape as well which gives a less tender and luscious end result. If you prefer you can even ask the butcher to score the pork for you. How easy is that.
- Blanching. Boil a kettle. Place the pork belly skin side up on a wire rack in a baking dish (or even the kitchen sink as I like to do) and pour over the entire contents of the kettle. This blanches the pork rind.
- Drying. Pat dry with paper towels and place covered in the refrigerator over night.
Slow Roasted Pork Belly Scented with Fennel
Serves 6 -8
2kg piece boneless pork belly; scored, blanched and dried
1 tablespoon salt, for rubbing into the scored rind
For the herb rub
4 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
3 tablespoons fennel seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon sea salt flakes
For the aromatic bed of vegetables on which the pork belly will roast
2 brown onions, peeled and cut into thick slices
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into chunks
1 fennel bulb, cut into eighths
Sprigs of rosemary
1 long red chilli, deseeded and cut lengthwise into strips
Preheat oven to 220C
Place rosemary, garlic, fennel seeds, olive oil and salt in a mortar and pestle and grind to a paste. Rub all over the flesh(not rind) of the pork belly. Rub scored rind with 1 tablespoon of salt. Set aside.
Arrange the onion, carrot, fennel, chili, and rosemary in a roasting pan and sit the pork belly on top skin side up. Roast at 220C for 30 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 170C. Roast for a further 21/2 -3 hours until pork is tender and cooked through, and rind is crisp. Timing will depend on the thickness of the pork belly.
If you are having trouble with the crackling, turn the oven back up to 220C for the last 20 minutes of roasting. If all else fails, place the pork under a hot grill for a few minutes to crisp up the crackling. Be warned if you resort to the grill, you will need to watch the pork closely in case it burns.