I cannot tell you how many pork belly recipes I have tried, but it’s been many. Almost too many, considering the success of some of them. Some have taken one hour, others have taken five hours of constant vigilance, others have been steamed first, or had hot water poured over the skin, the skin has been scored and salted, the skin hasn’t been scored and salted, the meat’s been marinated or the meat has definitely not been marinated because otherwise you don’t get crackling, the crackling is made first, or its made last. There’s been so many variations, and I’m sure there’s plenty more variations and techniques I’ve tried.
I wouldn’t even say I’m a massive fan of pork belly! But I suppose I am a fan of proper, well done, buttery-layers-of-fat-and-crispy-crackling pork belly. And this recipe? This is close, so close. Not quite perfect, since I’d need to do the proper version with a full piece of pork belly, but these pork belly slices are better than quite a few of the slippery, almost rubbery recipes I’ve tried out before, despite their various promises for perfect crackling and whatnot.
There’s little more satisfying food-wise, in my humble opinion, than the crunch of real good crackling. Not the kind where you’re scared for the condition of your teeth of course, but still a good sound when you bite in. Add buttery, rich brioche and the sweetness of red onions quickly caramelised in brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, and we’re onto a winner. The spinach is basically there to be good for you! But in all seriousness, I prefer using a few raw small leaves of spinach than some kind of plain lettuce-y leaf, but gem lettuce or similar would probably work I guess.
And as a last step to good food, we add a yellow bean-based sauce. The pork’s texture is pretty much perfect, but bar a little saltiness, it helps to have a really good sauce to add to the mix. I love crushed yellow bean sauce so much, and I don’t really recommend substituting it for anything else. There’s nothing that I know of that quite matches that salty, tangy flavour of yellow bean. But if you really can’t get a hold of it at all (it’s mostly available in asian food stores, mostly in cans in the UK at least! The non-crushed kind often comes in glass jars, but you want the smooth, silky stuff here), then skip making the sauce and go with some hoi sin. It’ll do the job.
The reason this recipe works is because we cover the top of the pork belly slices with salt, onto the skin. In the oven, that quickly forms a salt crust, which we then pull off, turn up the heat and let the skin bubble and crack into perfect crispiness. Or we could say it’s magic?
Serves 2-3 people, for lunch or dinner.
6 small pork belly slices
table salt (lots of it)
6 brioche buns, toasted (or a brioche loaf, sliced)
few handfuls of washed spinach leaves
4 medium red onions
3 tbsp of dark brown sugar
1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar (as good quality as you can, I like the types that are almost as thick as a balsamic reduction)
(and if you’re making the sauce)
3 tbsp of yellow bean sauce
1 tsp of light soy sauce
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tsp of sesame oil
First preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Fill a pan with water, and place a rack over it where the pork slices will be roasted. Wash and dry the slices thoroughly. Arrange the pork belly slices onto the rack, skin-side up (this may take some fiddling). Sprinkle a thick layer of the table salt over the skin.
Roast the pork for about 40 minutes, at which point the salt should have hardened. Add water as needed to the pan.
In the meantime, peel and slice the onions finely. Add to a hot pan with a little oil, and fry them gently so they start to soften. Add the brown sugar, and the balsamic vinegar. Mix together thoroughly so that the sugar dissolves, but doesn’t burn. Keep on low heat, stirring through to ensure all the onion slices caramelise thoroughly. The onions will continue to get darker and stickier.
Mix together the ingredients for the sauce if using. Set aside.
Remove the pork belly from the oven, pull of the salt crust and discard that crust. Turn the heat up to 230 degrees celsius. Put the pork back in, and roast for another 20 minutes.
Serve the pork belly slices immediately with the toasted brioche, washed spinach leaves, the sticky red onions and the sauce. It’ll get a little messy, but I hope you enjoy them!