Pork belly sounds all exotic and difficult, but it's just pre-bacon, really, the side of a pig before all the salting and curing and slicing. Formerly cheap and cheerful, belly is latterly victim of bandwagoning foodie attention and therefore increasingly expensive; I paid $20 NZ for this 1 kilo free range piece, which will feed two people for two days. That doesn't sound particularly thrifty but we're being greedy; you can chop up leftover belly and add it to stirfry vegetables and broths etc to make it go further.
If you're going to eat meat, please consider opting exclusively for free-range product. I know it's more expensive but I promise that your budget and expectations will adapt.
Below: this is a nice balanced piece of free-range pork belly. Balanced as in displaying an even ratio of fat to meat. Some belly is all one without the other, and that's not optimal.
Not every piece of belly is going to be meltingly tender and there's not a tremendous amount you can do about that. Marinade usually helps but I think its ability to break down gnarly meat grain is vastly overstated. Lower your oven temp and extend the initial cooking time if you've got a bit of home-kill that you think will need extra attention.
The marinade is endlessly adaptable in all honesty. You can add anything from the Asian flavour pantheon that tickles your particular fancy. I chuck in dates, fennel seeds, star anise, golden syrup and gooseberry jam according to whatever's in the fridge and it's always good. Crappy/inexperienced cook? Look no further than this ultra-reliable, unfuckupable recipe. Sounds exciting, tastes delicious, requires virtually no culinary skill. If you can use a grater you can do this.
WHAT YOU NEED
Ingredients are approx and negotiable (except the orange)
- Around 1 kg free range pork belly, boned.
- 2 oranges or 4 mandarins
- Decent piece of fresh ginger (or dried)
- A bit of stick cinnamon
- Few cloves garlic
- Slosh of chicken or vegetable stock
- Asian sauce: today it's Black Bean
- Big blob of honey or golden syrup etc.
- Big glob of orange jam or marmalade, or leave out and replace with more honey.
- Few shakes of sesame oil
- Black pepper and salt to taste
- Rice bran oil or butter or any neutral fat
That honey will resist emulsification unless it's super-runny so you'll have to do a bit of mixing. Just get it so it's more or less involved in the liquid.
Have I shared my orange and ginger jam recipe? Dude. You'll love it.
Now add about a half to a whole cup of chicken stock, depending on how much liquid you feel you'll need to achieve decent meat coverage. In this bowl, I'd say that's about three good cups all up? It's not crucial.
Place the meat in the glass bowl and press down so that the belly strips are as covered as much as is humanly possible. If you're short of liquid, squeeze another orange into it or throw in another dash of stock.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
You want a nice big covered glass bowl for the marinade but it's not going in the oven so it doesn't have to be Pyrex etc.
Squeeze the oranges or mandarins and add to the bowl along with pulp if you wish (I find it adds flavour and texture). Then finely grate up about a fat tablespoon of fresh ginger and chuck it in along with the chopped garlic, cinnamon, honey, jam, sauces, seasonings and sesame oil.
You'll need your best sharp knife to get through the belly cleanly. Slice it, skin-up, first in half then keep going until you've got more or less even strips. Not too thin, or they'll dry out. Not too thick, or they'll have a boring glaze-to-interior ratio. You can see what I've done here- they're about two fingers wide, which is cool.
They'll shrink a bit, end to end.
When the oven's up to heat, put the pork on the lowest shelf and turn down to between 150-180 ºC depending on how mad your elements tend to be. You want medium-high heat for around 45 mins for this amount of meat, a little less for a smaller batch. You know the drill.
After around 45 mins, take meat out, discard the foil and spoon some of the marinade over the strips. They're pretty much cooked now, so the next step is browning them up. Arrange them so they're not too crowded against each other. Turn your oven up to around 200º C again, higher if it's a slow bitch, preferably on fanbake but you can grill on a high setting too. Whatever gives you maximum sizzle action.
You'll have to watch the meat carefully from now on. Turn your back one too many times and you'll have a carbonised catastrophe and a pan you might as well throw away.
While the belly's colouring up, get your veggies ready; we're having stir fry so I've got that on the stove top. After about 10 mins on blast, turn the strips over and dress them again with the juice. I like to add some marinade to the vegetables but do make sure it's cooked through since it was in contact with raw meat. The pork should be well browned after about 10 mins on each side. Don't go too nutty with that process and take the meat out to check because oven lights tend to downplay how black shit is getting. I don't care about getting the skin crisped; you can turn it up toward the heat at the end if that's your thing.
Turn the oven off and let the belly strips rest in their juice for 10 mins and then serve. Everyone will love you. They're good the next day too- save some juice to keep them moist during reheating.