Around the same time we had a baby, a couple friends and myself went in on a half a pig from Tails & Trotters. I’ve been taking some heat on my FB page about how there should be more baby pics than pork pigs. I don’t know why people have to hate—it’s an even heat anyway!
For Xmas Eve dinner, I made a pork belly roast from the slightest portion of the vast amount of belly that we got in the share. I followed the procedure from Canal House Cooking Vol. 5, and paired it with roast carrots, and a celeriac remoulade, which was also featured in the cookbook. The whole meal is really easy, and if you already love to eat bacon, this recipe isn’t going to give you any added risk of a massive coronary heart attack. Well, it might. The simplicity of this dish belies the time it takes to prepare. The following is a minimum of time needed, in hours, and by stage, to prepare this pork belly, just so you can plan if you decide to give it a go: 4+1.5+1+2+.25 or almost 9 hours. Of course, this is the kind of thing that you can have ready to go well in advance of a proposed dinner hour, as in days early.
This can be prepared with a piece of pork belly that has the skin still on, or not. I made it with the skin still on, but when I make it again, I’ll probably remove it. I learned that it is better without out it because I wasn’t paying enough attention (Scotch plus ) to the oven during the final stages of cooking and I burnt it to a crisp. When I heated up the remaining portion a few days later, I watched more closely, and the skin did some cool stuff, but it was inconsistent—half of it popped up like a pork rind, but the other half just remained chewy and almost a burden to eat. If you could guarantee that it would all pop up (I’m sure there’s a way. . .) then I’d say leave it on without question. Either way, you want to score the meat into a small-square patchwork as illustrated in the pictures. If you leave the skin on, your knife will have to be extremely sharp!
Ingredient List for the belly: 2 Tbls Sugar, 2 Tbls Kosher Salt, 2 Tbls fresh thyme leaves, 2 tsp fresh ground black pepper, 3lb (or less) piece of pork belly, and 1 cup of apple cider.
Combine the first four ingredients, rub it all into the meat, and put the belly into a ziploc bag and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
Pre-heat the oven to 250º. Once it has cured for a sufficient amount of time (I let it go for about 4-5 hours), remove it from the bag and rinse it off. Dry with paper towels, then place it into a roasting pan, skin side up, that will fit it snugly. I used my 10″ skillet, because all my roasting pans are enormous. Pour in the cup of apple cider, cover the pan with a lid or tin foil, and roast in the oven for about 1.5 to 2 hours, basting occasionally. Up the heat to 400º and roast for an additional hour. The meat should have a very appetizing golden brown color. Remove it from the oven and wrap it up in tin foil. Place it on a plate, or baking sheet large enough to accommodate the meat, and place a similar sized plate or baking sheet on top of it, weighing it down with something on the heavy side. I used a pyrex filled with dried garbanzo beans from back when I was making quiches on the regs. Let it chill in the refrigerator for as long as you have time to wait. Word is, that you’re supposed to let it chill thoroughly, but I wouldn’t sweat it. The purpose is to let the weight compact the flesh and the fat of the pork belly into a more solid block. It does help in terms of mouth-feel and presentation to a degree, but if you just want to get it going as soon as possible, I’d allow about 2 hours of chill time.
Once it has chilled thoroughly, preheat the oven to 350º, and take the belly and cut it into (reasonably-sized) squares. Heat the individual squares for 15 to 20 minutes. Of my own accord, I decided to hit ’em with the broiler to finish them off. This is where I charred the skin to inedibleness and almost started a Christmas fire via flaming parchment paper (not really. Well, possibly.) But it was OK. In the midst of all the smoke pouring from the oven, I cut off all the char to reveal a fatty layer, and as the baking sheet I was using was covered in a tattered war zone of burnt and fat, I placed the individual pieces into separate spots in a muffin tin and returned them to the broiler. This time I watched more carefully as the fat caramelized under the extreme heat, and pulled them when they reached a rich dark brown.
EXTRAS: To make a delicious sauce, pour off the majority of the fat in the roasting pan that will inevitably have rendered from the belly. The gooey brown bits, and sugary sludge are what you want here. Pour in a cup more of apple cider, bring up to a boil, and all the while scrap up the bits with a wooden spoon. Reduce until it’s a nice syrupy consistency, and reserve.
To make the Celeriac Roumelade: julienne a 1lb celery root bulb. Combine the juice of 2 lemons, 2 Tbls of Dijon mustard, and half a cup of heavy cream. Mix it in with the celery root, and season to taste with salt and pepper. This is a great addition to the dish as the fresh tang of the lemon, and vinegariness of the dijon pairs wonderfully with, and cuts through the rich fattiness of the pork. If not this, then it should be paired with a similar side dish.
Edit: This is a pic of what happened with the piece that I broiled more carefully:
It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between the crisp crunchy skin pieces, and the ones that stay relatively chewy. I’m wondering how to get them all to pop…