I married a man who loves cars, computer games, building stuff and fishing. I married a man who is kind, compassionate, fair and honest. I married a man with many talents and many passions. Not one of his passions? Food (go figure). Sure, he likes to eat nice food and he does appreciate my efforts but he could easily live off garage pies and biltong. However, the one thing this man will eat non-stop? Cauliflower cheese. All day, everyday, if he had his way. So as it was his birthday yesterday, I knew the one thing I had to cook him was a big old dish of creamy, cheesy Cauliflower cheese. And alongside that I served the most perfect, simple pork belly with crisp, crunchy crackling. Which happens to be another one of his foodie loves. And because I already have my ultimate cauliflower cheese recipe on the blog, I thought I’d share with you how I cook pork belly so that the meat is tender, juicy and succulent and the skin is crisp, golden and crunchy.
The trick to crunchy crackling? Dry skin. The skin on the pork belly needs to be very dry for it to be able to bubble and crisp up. Before placing the pork in a hot oven, I rubbed the skin with smoked salt and lots of black pepper. And that was it. I didn’t add any other flavourings or ingredients to the roasting dish. I wanted the pork’s natural sweetness to shine through. I then popped the pork into the oven which was pre-heated to 220°c and allowed it to start roasting for 25-30 minutes. By this time, the skin had already bubbled up and was starting to turn a beautiful shade of brown. I then turned the oven down to 160°c and allowed it to roast for a further 25 minutes per 500g (for my 1.2kg pork belly I roasted it for another hour). Once the pork was cooked through, I removed it from the oven, covered it with foil and allowed it to rest for another 25 minutes. Now, I know most of us already allow our meats to rest after cooking but I still find that, that is the one mistake most people make when cooking meat. Resting the meat after cooking is the most important step in the whole cooking process. Hours of marinating and perfect cooking means nothing if your meat hasn’t rested. Resting allows all the natural juices to re-distribute back into the meat. If you don’t rest the meat, you’ll find a big puddle of juice once you start carving. Juice that should be in the meat. As you can see, even after resting for close to 30 minutes my pork belly still released quite a lot liquid BUT the meat wasn’t dry. It was succulent and unctuous with the generous layers of fat in between the meat. And that crackling? Just perfect.
I served the pork belly with the cauliflower cheese (of course) and some blanched green beans even though C didn’t touch the beans and just loaded his plate up with creamy cauliflower and delicious pork. A simple birthday feast, done right. I’d love to hear what you would serve in your ultimate birthday feast. Would it be simple or elaborate?
- 1 Pork belly (1.2kg-1.6kg for 4-6 people) (ask your butcher to remove the bone if you prefer not to have it attached)
- salt (I used smoked salt)
- freshly cracked black pepper
- Pre-heat the oven to 220°c and place a wire rack in a roasting tray.
- Score the skin of the pork belly with a very sharp knife, taking care not to cut through to the meat.
- Rub the skin and meat of the pork belly with a generous seasoning of salt and pepper.
- Place the pork belly on the wire rack and place the tray in the oven.
- Roast the belly for 30 minutes at 220°c then turn the temperature down to 160°c and allow to roast for another 25 minutes per 500g.
- When the pork belly is cooked, remove from the oven then cover with foil and allow to rest for another 30 minutes.
- When the belly has rested, carve the meat using the slits in the skin as a guide then serve.