The perfect pork belly is all about the contrast between crunchy, snappable strips of crackling, and delicately soft meat underneath. But how to get the former without overcooking and drying out the meat, or the latter without ending up with tough, chewy, unappealing skin? Follow these simple rules and you’ll be serving up flawless pork belly to an eager crowd.
Step-by-step guide to the perfect roast pork belly
1. Cracking the crackling
To get the perfect crackling, the skin needs to be as dry as possible. Keeping the joint in a cold, dry fridge overnight will help the drying process, and keeping it uncovered will ensure no condensation forms. Scoring the skin increases the surface area exposed to the heat of the oven, so that more of it crisps up, and not scoring too deeply prevents any meat juices from bubbling up and making the skin soggy.
2. Worth its salt
Salting the meat well before cooking does two things: it draws moisture from the surface, allowing salt to enter the meat and season it, along with any flavourings; and the salt also affects the protein structure, which softens and tenderises the meat.
3. Matter of degrees
Bringing the meat to room temperature before roasting is important with a large piece of meat – it ensures even cooking throughout, preventing the outside from over-cooking and drying out before the inner meat is fully cooked.
4. High time
The blast of high heat at the start of roasting lifts the rind from the meat, moving it away from the moisture rich meat and keeping it dry for crackling to form.
5. Stick to the ribs
Roasting belly with the rib bones still intact protects some of the internal meat from the fierce heat of the oven. As the bones heat up they will gradually transmit heat to the meat inside. Along with the onions and celery on the bottom of the tray, the ribs also act as a trivet, propping up the meat and enabling heat to circulate underneath while also allowing the meat to braise in the cider and the crackling to roast.
6. Rest assured
Resting the pork belly will allow the juices to thicken and then redistribute within the meat, meaning they won’t all flood out when carved.
Higher-welfare pork will help ensure good crackling as it is likely to have been dry aged and have a lower water content.