If you're looking for a Sunday roast alternative, why not try this Chinese-inspired pork belly? A fragrant Szechuan-flavoured salt accentuates the crackling and tender, juicy meat; this really is a symphony of flavours and texture.
The day before you want to serve the pork, begin by drying the joint. Unwrap, pat dry with kitchen paper and place on a plate. Transfer to the fridge overnight, lightly covered with kitchen paper.
A dry rind is essential for crispy crackling. If your joint has been wrapped in plastic, it may have ‘sweated’ a little, so it’s important to remove as much of this moisture as possible to give it the best start.
On the day of cooking, grind the peppercorns, fennel seeds, five-spice and cardamom seeds to a fine powder using a pestle and mortar. Stir in the 1 tbsp fine salt. Salt draws out moisture, so rubbing the pork with the spiced salt (fine salt penetrates the rind better) before roasting helps ensure the crackling will go crisp. The second rub adds flavour and helps to keep the rind dry during cooking.
Place the joint on a chopping board and pat dry with kitchen paper. Use a very sharp knife to score a diamond pattern in the rind – if the joint is already scored, score extra cuts in it. Crackling is made when hot fat pushes its way up over the rind: by scoring a diamond pattern before roasting, you help this process along. Ensure the original score lines are about 1cm apart.
Cover the rind with all but a pinch of the spiced salt mixture, working it into the cuts with your hands. Rub the remaining spiced salt underneath the joint. Leave at room temperature for 30 mins. Preheat the oven to gas 9, 240°C, fan 220°C (or to gas 10, 260°C, fan 240°C if your oven allows). Rub of most of the spiced salt from the rind and from in between the cuts, then pat dry with kitchen paper. Gently rub the extra 1 tsp fine salt onto the rind. Place on a trivet in a roasting tin.
A trivet helps the meat cook evenly and raises the crackling higher to receive more direct heat. You can use a roasting rack or make a vegetable trivet by placing the joint on top of peeled, halved carrots and celery sticks – the veg can then be used to make gravy.
Roast for 30 mins, then reduce the oven temperature to gas 5, 190°C, fan 170°C and roast for a further 50 mins until the pork is cooked through. Setting the oven very hot to start with means the fat will heat quickly, creating the crackling. But reduce the temperature after 30 mins or the meat will dry out.
If the crackling is still a bit soft, turn the temperature back up to gas 9, 240°C, fan 220°C (or gas 10, 260°C, fan 240°C if your oven allows) for the last 10 mins. To calculate the cooking time of any pork belly joint, use 35 mins per 500g, plus 35 mins.
Leave the cooked joint, loosely covered with foil, to rest for 20 mins. It’s important to allow cooked meat to rest, so the juices and moisture can be reabsorbed and redistributed. If you slice it immediately after roasting, more of the juices will run out of the meat, leaving you with a dry joint.
Serve with charred pak choi and roast potatoes, if you like.
We've included a handy ingredients list to help you make this crispy Szechuan-spiced pork belly – don't forget to screenshot the list before going shopping!
750g pork belly joint⅛ tsp Szechuan peppercorns⅛ tsp fennel seeds⅛ tsp Chinese five-spice1 cardamom pod, seeds removed1 tbsp fine salt, plus 1 tspcharred pak choi and roast potatoes, to serve (optional)
Serves 4 | Takes 1 hr 40 mins plus resting and overnight chilling
Freezing and defrosting guidelines
Freeze without crackling. In order to enjoy optimum flavour and quality, frozen items are best used within 3 months of their freezing date. For more tips on freezing and defrosting food, read our article Love Your Freezer.
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