Pork belly is the perfect dish for a lazy cook like me. Though it’s featured on trendy menus, rest assured you don’t need to be a restaurant chef to roast this fabulous cut of meat.
A surefire crowd pleaser, pork belly is succulent, tender, flavorful and rich. Plus it’s relatively inexpensive. Unlike beef or lamb that require a balance of time and temperature, this is a roast the cook cannot dry out. Let it go for an extra hour and it’s still fantastic. It sports a generous layer of fat that crisps up the skin into a crackly cap, and once that fat is rendered, it makes a delicious medium for frying potatoes, eggs and vegetables.
Leftovers (if you have them) are spectacular re-sizzled for Asian dishes, piled into tacos, scattered on pizza or tossed into chili. When cured and smoked, pork belly becomes bacon; it’s the true carnivore’s cut.
Now is the season for pork because it pairs so beautifully with cabbage, potatoes, apples, cider and, of course, beer. Sausages and pork became the classic dishes of autumn once the butchering was done and the crops were harvested from orchards and fields.
While pork belly can be grilled or braised, I like the long, slow-roasting method best. If possible, start a day ahead, score and season the meat and leave it overnight, on a roasting rack set over a pan, uncovered in the refrigerator. This helps evaporate moisture from the meat’s surface. The drier it is, the crispier the skin will become.
If you’re buying the pork belly from a butcher, ask that it be scored in a crisscross diamond pattern. Or you can do this yourself with a sharp knife, but be careful that you cut through the fat and not into the meat. This ensures that the fat will melt off and into the pan as the meat becomes fork-tender and succulent.
Start the roast in a hot oven to help crisp the skin and seal in the juices, then reduce the temperature and leave it alone for several hours. Right before serving, turn the heat back up to be sure the cap becomes crackly and golden brown (the best part). When done, the meat should fall apart as you slice it into strips or chunks. Serve with a side of sautéed cabbage, chard or kale, and a hunk of bread to sop up all that unctuous goodness.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.