Sometimes you just have to buy a bigger cut of meat than you really need. Maybe it’s on special, or it’s the cut you want but isn’t available in a smaller size. Although I do have a favourite butcher who’s available several days a week in the covered market in town (driving distance), we buy most of our meat directly from the farmers at the monthly farmers’ market in our nearby village (walking distance). Many of the farmers do their own butchering, but none of them have the facilities to cater to special requests in the open air market, so we can only choose from what they have pre-packaged. Thus I recently purchased a 3-pound piece of belly pork for just my husband and me. Rather than whack it into sections at home to freeze for later use as a condiment as I have done in the past, this time I fancied having a go at serving it as a main dish, having seen it on restaurant menus a few times this winter.
I spent half a day scouring my cookbook collection and cross-checking with online recipes, trying to decide whether to use moist or dry heat, how long to cook it, and what kinds of flavourings to add, if any. It was worth the effort: belly pork is much easier and quicker to cook than I thought it would be, and we have been thrilled with the results–and all the leftovers! The procedure I outline below is a synthesis of my research, plus some ideas of my own, and resulted in a fully-cooked, moist and tender piece of meat with crunchy crackling skin on top. The residual fats under the skin meant it was easy to re-heat in a variety of ways, without the meat drying out.
Serves 6-12, depending on appetite
|3 pound piece||Belly pork (mine had stubs of ribs left in)|
|Up to one teaspoon||Sea salt (whole)|
|Up to one teaspoon||Fennel seeed|
- About 3 hours before serving time, preheat oven to maximum. This is 475F/240C/gas mark 9 in my house.
- While oven is preheating, remove meat from packaging, wipe clean, and score the skin in a diamond pattern. This helps create the crackling and allows seasonings to reach the meat. The skin is tough, so use a good, very sharp knife.
- Put sea salt and fennel seed together in a mortar and pestle (or the spice mill of your preferred food processor), and grind together. When even but still coarse, rub into the meat on all sides.
- Place meat directly in bottom of a roasting tray (no rack!) and into the oven to blast roast for 25-30 minutes.
- Reduce heat to 375F/190C/gas mark 5, and continue cooking for 1 1/2 hours (=1/2 hour per pound).
- Prepare side dishes while meat is cooking. I made a harvest medley of squashes, potatoes and onions.
- Remove meat from oven and allow to rest, lightly covered, on a clean rack for 1/2 hour.
I used this time and the already hot oven to roast my veggies, pouring the pork pan drippings over them for the last few minutes of cooking.
- Carve once the meat has rested, aiming for about one half to one rib’s worth per hungry person.
- Serve as desired. Apple is classic with pork, so we had home-made ginger applesauce on the plate, along with the harvest medley and green beans.