This is another one from Nicko’s kitchen.
I’m always looking for a way to recreate that unique Chinese flavour for food without all the other things that people tend to put in that are completely non-Paleo. We also love pork crackling and the fatty cuts of meat in this house, so a pork belly recipe was exactly what we needed.
I binned our soy sauce a long time ago because it had gluten in it but for the sake of a pork belly recipe I invested in some gluten-free soy sauce. I try to avoid soy products when I can but a very little once in a while is probably not going to kill me – there’s very little in here and this brand is without gluten.
For this recipe you really want a single piece of pork belly joint. I tried to buy one and what arrived from the supermarket were the more traditional thin slices of pork belly. However I lined them up tightly in a dish and treated them like a single joint. The one difference is that if you do have slices then they won’t need quite so long to cook through.
This recipe comes with a serious warning since I nearly ended up with severe burns on my face from my first attempt to cook this.
The problem was that I do my shopping online and ordered deli counter belly pork in the expectation that I would get a single piece rather than belly pork strips, however I discovered that what they sent me was strips. I should have stopped at that point and done something different, but I didn’t.
If you can only get strips either don’t try this recipe or don’t do the crackling. The method described below for achieving the cracking spits violently and when combining that with an unstable thin strip of meat balanced on its back is dangerous. Despite cooking this at arms length and leaning back away from the pan a sudden particularly large spit of fat landed straight across my face. Thank goodness for glasses since they took the middle of it and I just got a large amount of hot fat on my eyebrow and cheek (and a little on my bottom lip). Otherwise I might have lost an eye.
I immediately stopped cooking, spent nearly an hour soaking my face in a basin of water as cold as I could get it out of the tap and then a further hour holding small ice packs against the two worst spots of burn before they stopped feeling really hot. The next morning I peered into the mirror with trepidation but I’d got to the burns fast enough – there were just slight red splotches like sunburn on my cheek and eyebrow (admittedly one of my biggest concerns was that scarring on my eyebrow would mean drawing my eyebrows for the rest of my life). A few days later they peeled off like peeling sunburn.
Chris kindly finished the dinner by sticking the pork onto the grill tray and grilling them so they sort of crackled but it also dried the meat out a bit since it had already been cooked and should have been juicy and tender for this dish. The picture below is of these slightly dried out strips so see the video for a better image of what it should look like.
My burns were a close call and a stark reminder about being careful in the kitchen. It’s definitely something you should be aware of when you set into this recipe. My recommendations would be:
- Ensure you get a single piece of meat and cut it into nice wide rectangular pieces (see the Nicko video for an example). That will make them more stable in the pan when you fry up the crackling.
- If you have any doubts, slice the fat and skin off the top after you’ve cooked the pork and cut it into pieces (you want pieces of crackling to match the pieces of pork) and place this skin-side up on a tray in the oven. Grill for 5-10 mins on high heat until the skin has gone hard. It won’t be as bubbly as fried crackling but you’ll definitely not get burned by flying fat.
Ingredients (serves 4-6):
½ tsp Chinese five-spice powder
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 star anise, broken up
3 cm fresh ginger root, grated
2 fresh red chillis, deseeded and chopped
1 kg pork belly, ribs removed (in a single piece if possible)
1 stalk lemongrass
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp gluten-free soy sauce
- Grind the Chinese five-spice powder, garlic, star anise, ginger root and chillis together in a pestle and mortar until you have a juicy, lumpy paste.
- Place the belly pork skin-side down in a dish and rub the marinade all over the exposed flesh. Cover and put in the fridge to marinate for a minimum of 2 hours (overnight is better as the flavours will impregnate the pork more).
- When you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 160C.
- Put a cup of water into an oven dish that has a lid, place the pork in the pot continuing to keep it skin-side down with the marinated flesh exposed. Put a layer of foil over the pot to keep the liquid from evaporating and then put the lid on it and place in the oven for 2 hours.
- At the end of cooking time remove the pork from the pot and place it onto a chopping board (you can put it on the board skin-side up now). Strain the liquid from the pot into a saucepan, to remove any lumps and pieces in it, stir in the soy sauce and warm over a low heat.
- Meanwhile, cut the pork into the size pieces that you want to serve, sprinkle the skin with salt, heat the oil in a pan and then place the pieces of pork into the frying pan skin-side down. The pork will crackle and pop a lot as the skin turn into a crunchy crackling so you might want a good apron for this step! Fry until the skin is hard, slightly bubbly in texture and golden brown – the perfect crackling.
Serve up on a simple stir-fry (without the ginger or chilli added when cooking – you don’t want to overpower the flavour of the belly pork), pak-choi stir-fry, or on some steamed cabbage with the warmed watery broth drizzled over the top.