Some of my friends have said that they are “over” pork belly. How could one ever fall out of love with fat? That would could not happen to me. I recently slow cooked pork belly and now, with that cut of bone-in pork belly that I got from the Chinese market, I was going to try roasting it. I reached out for advice and suggestions on Facebook and this site included
- N. Fong: Yum! Marinate and slow braised, then roasted!
- J. Washburn: I get a chunk of bone-in pig belly nearly every time I go to Austin. It runs about $2.09/lb. there. Several ways to cook 'em. One of my favorites is rub with 5-spice, slow roast, run skin side under broiler to blister when done.
- J. Adams: Char siu!
See the comments section of the post on this unusual cut of pork to get Jarrett’s Thai take on Momofuku’s roast pork belly. Sunflower in the UK provided excellent information on a Chinese version of crisp pork belly.
Gazing at my bookshelves, I remembered seeing a recipe in Vietnamese-Australian Luke Nguyen’s The Songs of Sapa, a Vietnamese cookbook that’s up for an IACP cookbook award this year. I looked it up and his recipe intrigued me for the following reasons:
(1) It came from a Vietnamese vendor in Vietnam and Luke attached a great family story to the recipe. I'm a sucker for a good story, you know that!
(2) Required scalding the skin, which I just did for homemade Peking duck so I felt like I was on a roll.
(3) Involved these unusual ingredients: annatto oil, cornstarch, and baking soda. What do these ingredients do to the pork belly during roasting?
(4) Was very easy.
I wanted to keep things simple to allow the meat to shine. So I tried Luke's recipe out, and the results were good for my first time out with roasting bone-in pork belly. Pork in Vietnam often times requires scalding and scraping as it can be tough and needs to be cleaned – somewhat like scraping your tongue, which Asians have been doing since ancient times. Seriously.
The results from following Luke’s recipe for roast pork were these: The skin got nicely colored from the annatto oil and very crispy in certain parts, only after I ran it under broiler for the last 5 minutes or so, per the suggestion above. Slow roasting alone didn’t get the skin crisp. It was oddly kinda gummy in other areas that weren’t fully crisp, so I’m wondering if the cornstarch had an impact on turning the texture funny.
From the photo at the top, you can see that the flesh was exceptionally moist. The rib bones protected it in a way for the heat and added flavor too. I’m not sure about the baking soda as it is sometimes used in Vietnam as a meat tenderizer (!) and here it gave part of the roast an overly metallic taste that I didn’t care for.
But I had scaled up the recipe from Luke’s original quantities as I had a 3 pound roast whereas he called for a 2 1/4-pound roast. Sometimes scaling up a recipe takes it off its balance. All things considered, the final dip of the meat in some soy sauce and sliced chiles remedied everything. We ate half of the roast for dinner. We’re definitely not “over” pork belly!
This recipe is worth trying because it’s an intriguing method from Vietnam. (If you have Robert Danhi’s Southeast Asian Flavors cookbook, there’s another excellent Vietnamese vendor’s recipe for roasted pork belly.) In presenting this recipe from Luke Nguyen’s cookbook, I decided to leave the recipe as is because I’d like for you to interpret it too; the book is yet to be made available in the U.S. though you can order it online. Plus, there’s value in seeing how information is presented in other countries, should you be an American. My comments are in [brackets].
If you prepare The Song of Sapa’s roast pork, let the rest of us know your results! We’d love your thoughts!
Serves 4 to 6 as part of a shared meal
1 kg (2 lb 4 oz) pork belly, on the bone
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
2 tablespoons annatto oil (see below)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
2 teaspoons cornflour (cornstarch)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 bird’s eye chile, thinly sliced
Light (regular) soy sauce
1. Dip the skin of the pork belly briefly into boiled, hot water, taking care to keep the flesh out of the water. Clean the skin by scraping the surface with a knife to remove the outer layer; the skin should be a consistent white colour. Wash the skin, then, using a large, sharp knife, score the skin in either parallel lines or a crosshatch pattern. [If your pork skin is uniform white, maybe skip the scalding and scraping. See the photo caption below on my notes about scoring the skin.]
2. Combine 1/2 teaspoon of the five-spice, 1 tablespoon of the annatto oil, 1 teaspoon salt, the bicarbonate of soda and cornflour in a bowl, and mix well. Rub the mixture evenly over the pork skin.
The scoring actually made cutting the meat for serving easier. However the
skin fell off the fat, which is Peking duck-ish but not aesthetically pleasing.
I may have scored too deep.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining five-spice, annatto oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix well, then coat the pork meat with the mixture, massaging it in well. Place the pork in a dish, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
4. Preheat the oven to 250C (500F/Gas 9). Put the pork in a roasting tin, skin side up, and roast for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 150C (300F/Gas 2) and roast for a further 10 minutes. Brush the skin with the sesame oil and roast for a further 20 to 30 minutes, or until the pork is cooked through. [I would cook it for 30 to 40 more minutes, then turn on the broiler to crisp and blister the skin.]
5. Using a cleaver or large heavy knife, chop the pork belly into 2 cm (3/4 inch) pieces. Serve with jasmine rice, and a small bowl of sliced chilli and soy sauce for dipping.
Note: Annatto seeds, also known as achiote, are used to add a golden colour to foods such as pork, chicken, or rice. Annatto seeds and oil are sold in Asian and Indian markets. If you can only find the seeds, these can be used to make the oil. Heat 1 tablespoon of annatto seeds in a saucepan over low heat with 125 ml (4 fl oz/1/2 cup) of oil. Heat just until the oil begins to simmer; don’t overheat or the seeds will turn black. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool, then strain the oil into a jar.
More pork belly recipes: (on my other site, Asiandumplingtips.com)
- Japanese braised pork belly and steamed buns
- Chairman Mao's red-cooked pork belly
- Roasted pork belly banh mi sandwich recipe