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Apparently one of the most searched for dishes on Google, pork belly only became popular in the UK in the early Noughties. Nobody knew or cared earlier, apart from the Chinese (always wise). It was thought to be fatty and disgusting, and wasn’t even brought to the common denominator with bacon, though the twain don’t only meet - they ARE one.
It’s very peculiar that a pig seems to be an enigma to a lot of people, maybe only in the UK? I know some who think that bacon comes from a special breed of pigs (smoking pigs, I presume), entirely different to the porkers. I know, but what can you say? Perhaps it can be explained by a reference to cows, clearly much more familiar animals, being bred for milk or for meat. Or perhaps people are just ignorant.
Back to our pigs, or their bellies - crispy, garlicky and horribly overpriced, pork belly is now a gastropub staple except they rarely cook it well. It’s either tough or burnt to a crisp, having been slammed in the oven like a jacket potato. While, a bit like gammon, it should ideally be boiled first or - like I’ve done - steamed in the oven under a foil tent. Only the last hour or so the proper roasting should take place.
It’s very satisfying and should be cheap, but it also should be eaten fat and all - the fat on the belly is clean, white and tasty and those who meticulously cut out threads of lean from between fat layers are idiots. Do they cut out fat from streaky bacon rashers as well? I bet they do.
- 1kg pork belly, bone in, skin on
- 3-4 large garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp. dried marjoram
- 2 tsp black or garlic pepper
- 3 tbsp. black bean paste or sauce
- 2 tbsp. dark soy sauce
- 3 tbsp. runny honey
- 2 tsp liquid smoke (optional)
- 1 medium onion
- ½ cup dry sherry
1. Slice the garlic into slivers. With a sharp knife make incisions in the pork belly, on all sides except the skin (unless it’s scored, which I don’t see many benefits of; unscored skin peels off easier for carving) and push the garlic slivers in, as many as you can. Season the pork belly all over generously with the marjoram and pepper and drizzle with the black bean paste, soy sauce and honey. Rub the meat with the sauces on all sides and leave to marinate for at least an hour - overnight would be best.
2. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/gas 3. Slice the onion, peeled or unpeeled, into 4 rings, place them on the bottom of a roasting tray and sit the pork belly on the onion, skin side up. Pour the sherry into the tray, tent it with foil so that it’s sealed but doesn’t touch the meat.
3. Roast for 2 ½ hours, turn the heat up to 180C/350F/gas 4, take the foil off and roast for another hour, until the skin is crisp and charred around the edges. Let the meat rest for 15 minutes before carving.