CANTONESE-STYLE ROAST PORK BELLY
On the 20th of May 2013, I made a recipe that up to this day, more than a year later, still haunts me. It was a glorious, beautifully crafted specimen of pork belly confit, originally created by the Thomas Keller of whom I almost always, agree with.
There was nothing fundamentally wrong with it. The belly went through long hours of brining process before taking a hot-fat-tub bath that was equally as elaborate, then it went on to sit through an overnight pressing procedure… for reasons I followed without asking. Then, finally, 24 hours later in this excruciating climb to climax, it was sent into a skillet to fulfil its actual purpose – to form a golden, perforated crackling from the skin. The final torching of a caramel crust, although not from the original recipe, added a nice and thoughtful crunch and sweetness to the overall score. Like I said, there wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong with it…
Except that it was just too damn, unnecessarily complicated!
OK, you’re right. For those who only stop by once in a while, I’m evidently not someone who, by principle, seeks kitchen-shortcuts. I receive considerable amount of twisted pleasure from fiddling with obsessive cooking behavior I mean, I have an entire section named “Got nothing but time” (which I do) for crying out loud. But the premise is that the extra fusses should always be because a) it’s absolutely necessary by science (like fermentation), or b) it actually saves the overall effort by doing so (like leaving something to roast overnight). I guess all I’m asking for, the pole that I’m curbing my insanity to, is that the time and effort spent are not for some minuscule, or sometimes, undetectable differences. And I’m afraid that in the case of pork confit, I’m gonna have to prove myself right by proving myself wrong.
BEHIND THE PORNOGRAPHIC MASK, IS PURE UNADULTERATED PORKINESS
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I guess it’s helpful to first clarify that all the ruckus wasn’t about “pork belly confit”. It was originally intended at producing what’s in my mind, one of the very few that qualifies as, a perfect definition of pork.
Siu (roast) yuk (meat). You’ve all seen it – Cantonese roasted pig, hanging whole in all its magnificence behind a greasy, steamy glass-window from a Cantonese restaurant in any China-town. Its entire elongated and salty torso is suited in a shimmering, blindingly golden jacket of crispy, perforated crackling skin. The dish is chopped to order and among all the tasty treasures this glorious beast has to offer, is the crown jewel of siu yuk, and that is siu (roast) nan (belly). It is specifically the more expensive, more hawked over part of the belly with the optimally 5 intersecting layers of glistening meat and fat. The sticky soft parts melt as the crackling explodes, behind its pornographic mask, siu nan is a flush of pure unadulterated porkiness, and we’re not talking about pornographic Crazy sex and high definition streaming, just pure meat. Profoundly simple and uncomplicated perfection.
And turned out, the process of making it should be just as.
So now, coming back to my first, less simple attempt of making siu nan at home. First and foremost, the No. 1 of vain effort was the brining and the confit-processs (cooking meat submerged in its own fat or oil). Hey, let’s not forget that this is a fat-laden, self-sustaining piece of cut that embodies the true virtue of forgiveness. Unlike other mortal, leaner cuts such as briskets or duck legs, pork belly is saint-like. A cut that will not get mad at you because you so clumsily undercooked (bouncy and fatty), or overcooked (melty and gelatinous), let alone needing to be submerged in more fat. Instead of 6 hours of brining and 4 hours of slow-roasting in fat, the result would not be much different than if you just do 2 hours of salt-rub marinating and another 2 hours of roasting, by itself, at a slightly higher temperature.
Then there was the pressing… oh the fucking overnight pressing… Completely unnecessary. Yah yah I know I said that “it has to be pressed” in order to get a marble-like flat surface of the skin to be evenly blistered, but as it turned out…
A couple hours of chilling just to firm up the meat for clean trimming is all it needs. OK fine! Hell you can even skip that if you are wondering how much easier can trimming get? (it’s… it’s the laser-straight, laaaser-straight edges that I so SO mentally need, you know…). But of course, we wouldn’t need to have this argument if we’re talking about having the convenience of prepping ahead for the big dinner party tomorrow. Chilling overnight, two birds with one stone – check!
Now finally, for all you fellow labor-junkies who thrive on pure caffeines and building warships out of cakes and buttercream, your high-time has come. The only, actual work of this entire recipe is the 5 minutes of perforating the skin-layer with a bunch of wooden skewers, and 20 minutes of standing by the stove and watching so diligently as the skin blisters and crackles in a non-stick skillet over low heat… Then there’s nothing left to stop the sticky parts melting, and cracklings exploding…
Sorry fellow kitchen sickos. This one is that simple. Next time we’ll build the Death Star out of frozen spinach, ok?
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Servings: 4 as appetizer or 2 ~ 3 as rice-combo
When you choose your pork-belly, it’s important to pick the part where there’s optimal layering of meat and fat. It goes without saying that the better quality of the pork, the more porkiness and aroma will be in the end result. That is something that cannot be added through seasonings or techniques. So choose good pork.
This recipe is really, really simple. It only reads long because I’m trying to include every last details that might help you achieve the perfect result, but I mean… this dish pretty much can’t be bad. I’ve once under-blistered the skin which gave me a golden crispy crackling-layer with a little bit of sticky and gelatinous skin underneath. Does that ever hurt anybody? And I’ve also once left the belly in the skillet, forgotten… for like 30 min, which gave me a mildly burnt but super crispy crackling. I mean is that the worst thing to eat in the world? Two hours in the fridge for marinating, two hours in the oven for roasting, leaving you with only 20 minutes of actual work by the stove and during which, you pretty much don’t have to do anything.
* Everything up to “blistering the skin” can be done up to a few days ahead.
- 1 slab of skin-on pork-belly approx 8″ × 8″ (can be a square or rectangle)
- 2 tbsp of salt
- 1/2 tbsp of granulated sugar
- 3 slices of lemon peel (approx 1/2 lemon)
- 3 dried bay leaves
- 1 tsp of black peppercorn
- 1 tsp of white peppercorn
- Yellow mustard to serve
To marinate the pork-belly: Pulse salt, granulated sugar, lemon peels, bay leaves, black and white peppercorn in a spice-grinder or blender until coarsely ground. Place the pork-belly in a baking-sheet then rub the salt-mixture evenly on all sides of the pork belly. Let sit in the fridge for 2 hours. In the last 30 min, preheat the oven on 300ºF/150ºC.
To cook the pork-belly: Rinse off all the salt-mixture from the pork-belly and the baking-sheet, then place the belly back into the sheet skin-side down (to keep the skin layer relatively flat). Cover tightly with foil then roast in the preheated oven for 2 to 2:15 hours. The meat should be tender that a small knife can be easily inserted, but not falling apart. Remove the sheet from the oven and let cool for 30 min, then chill in the fridge for 1 hour (skin-side down still) until firm (for easy trimming). Everything up till now can be prepared the day ahead.
To blister the skin: 30 minutes before serving, carefully remove the pork-belly from the baking-sheet. Take a look at the cut-side and get familiar with the anatomy of the belly. The skin is a very obviously translucent and darker layer apart from the white, opaque fat-layer underneath. Then grab a big handful of wooden or metal skewers, evenly and thoroughly, make tiny punctures through the skin down the the top layer of fat. Instead of random jabbing, move systematically from left to right/top to bottom. The skin should be soft and easy to puncture without too much pressure. The more thoroughly and densely the skin is perforated, the more crispy and delicate the cracklings will be.
Now trim off irregular edges so you have a 90º? brick all around. It’s not just because we’re anal, but this helps the belly brown more evenly and beautifully. Going forward, I should probably find another word to use instead of “anal” because before long, you’ll all be thinking about which anal beads or similar kinds of sex toys that you can use during your bedroom antics later on instead of focusing on this gorgeous recipe that I have taken the time to write for you today. So, if we could focus on the task at hand instead of the word “anal”, that would be great.
(Updated 2017/11/21: slight change on cooking time) Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, then place the belly skin-side down in the center of the skillet. Cover with a piece of foil just big enough to leave steam-holes around the edges (this prevents splattering as well as warming the belly as it cooks). Once you hear sizzling sounds, turn the heat down to LOW. If your pork-belly does not have a flat and leveled skin-surface, you can apply weight (I used a small cast-iron skillet) where it needs it for the first 10 min. We want the entire layer of skin to be thoroughly blistered without burning, which is a process that will take no less than 20 min, up to 30 min depending on the thickness of the skin. You can check by uncovering the foil and look if the entire thickness of the skin-layer is blistered through (if not, you’ll see a translucent layer attached to the crackling).
The meat should be warmed through after the skin is properly blistered, so there’s no need to flip.
To cut/serve the pork-belly: Place the belly skin-down down, then with a shark knife, cut through the meat part by zig-zaging the knife, then once you get to the skin, simply press the knife down with swift and firm pressure. Cut the belly into small cubes and serve with yellow mustard, or on rice drizzled with sweet soy sauce.
Belinda@themoonblushbakerAugust 17, 2014 at 12:16 AM
God my nemesis of Chinese cooking is pork belly… I have got to use my next pork belly (I use the first one this week for a red braise) with this technique and maybe I will get mine to to look half as good as yours! Damn I am hungry…
Millie l Add A LittleAugust 17, 2014 at 2:43 AM
SO crispy!!! Drooling right now!
Crystal | Apples & SparkleAugust 17, 2014 at 3:57 AM
Beautiful, beautiful pork belly!
LizzieAugust 17, 2014 at 4:40 AM
DROOOOOOL! That looks amazing.
Interesting use of spices to marinade; I usually use fermented red beancurd for the flesh side but I’d love to try this instead.
CristinaAugust 17, 2014 at 8:44 AM
These photos are ridiculously stunning. When can I come over for dinner?
Thalia @ butter and briocheAugust 17, 2014 at 9:56 AM
damn i am definitely craving pork belly right now. that crackling looks AMAZING
megAugust 17, 2014 at 10:17 AM
DavidAugust 17, 2014 at 9:19 PM
This sounds like a real stunner!~
Tamsin | A Certain AdventureAugust 17, 2014 at 10:15 PM
This pork belly looks totally professional. That skin is to die for, and the little layer of fat underneath always has me beating my family members off to shovel as much as I can on to my plate… Thanks for sharing your recipe and cooking technique – maybe one day I’ll attempt it when I’m feeling brave! x
stephAugust 18, 2014 at 12:33 AM
this looks glorious mandy!! i’m definitely making it once i get my hands on a perfect piece of belly!
Sini | my blue&white kitchenAugust 18, 2014 at 10:32 PM
This post reminded me of all that delicious pork I ate in China. I definitely need to make this one day!!
Hope you have a great week,
Rachael @ Spache the SpatulaAugust 19, 2014 at 3:34 AM
Okay…so this is some of the most beautiful belly I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty sure my life is incomplete without this in my mouth.
kimithyAugust 20, 2014 at 4:34 AM
Ha! Great explanation, and love that you’re willing to pare down that super-intense recipe (and offer explanation of why it isn’t really necessary)!
Francois de MelogueAugust 20, 2014 at 10:18 PM
Holy Bat Shit! That is sexy! Great photos!
TimedEatingAugust 29, 2014 at 5:40 PM
Really beautiful post and beautiful photos. I’ve always pressed the pork – I don’t do it to flatten the skin but rather because it presses out some of the top layer of fat. I have also found, however, that there’s no difference between pressing for a couple of hours or pressing overnight like most do. I like to pair it with celeriac, pickled mushrooms and an apple caramel and pork sauce. If you want the recipe, here it is http://www.timedeating.co.uk/braised-pork-belly-celeriac-puree
JoOctober 24, 2014 at 11:22 AM
I have been making roast pork belly for a long time. And I have tried a few methods too, including the “death by a thousand holes” style. Unfortunately, the recipe I followed called for stabbing the skin when the pork is raw. And this you can imagine, took me an age due to the rubbery texture of the raw skin (woden skewers dont work so I had to use a sharp knife). So I never used this recipe again. Same with the french confit style. Too much hassle.
So my go to method is to salt the pork, and slow bake at low temperature with foil covering the sides of the belly but not the skin, and then upping the temperature to 200-220 Celsius. This results in a very thick, firm but crunchy pork rind.
And then I came across your post. Who knew completely covering the pork belly when baking at low temperature makes such a difference (kudos to you for thinking of this). And stabbing a zillion holes when the skin is pliable makes it so much easier. And just to be difficult, I deliberately left a 1 inch strip in the middle of the skin which I did not perforate, just to see what would happen. I ended up with thin, delicate, crunchy crackle on the bits which I perforated, and crunchy, but firm and sticky crackle on the bits that I didnt perforate. The meat was the moistest belly I’ve ever had. So thank you for making this my go to recipe, although next time I will try baking it at high heat in the oven instead of using the skillet (I hate washing up) to see how it turns out.
Saucy SpatulaNovember 11, 2014 at 2:55 AM
You can’t see me but I’m KICKING AND SCREAMING!!
geraldineMarch 26, 2015 at 2:38 AM
Hello, I am following from france and butchery is totally different, but I had had this question for ages about many types of recipes i try to recreate here. So when you say skin on, do you mean the ‘rind’ or just the fat with the rind cut off after boiling? You may think this is basic but our incredible butchers here, and i mean they are superb have been giving me sidling glances for years when i try to ask for like a christmas ham, or a roast pork…..its just different cuts here, but if i ask in advance and explain they are usually excited to find out what the weirdo wants..hehehe…..i think skin is rind but i really want to make this and be sure, there have been quite a few weird christmas and easter dinners in this house over the last 15 years. would you believe we can now get ribs here!
mandy@ladyandpupsMarch 26, 2015 at 12:16 PM
Geraldine, yes yes skin = rind. So I guess in France that would be “rind on”, hahaaaaa. Try to buy a pork belly with a thin rind, which will make the crisping easier.
geraldineMarch 26, 2015 at 11:33 PM
thank you very much
brianMay 24, 2015 at 4:33 PM
looks so good! but do you guys know there’s a technique called “photoshop”? Yes, it can be used on food!
Leon VuongSeptember 17, 2015 at 10:33 AM
Great recipe! Not only was the pork tender as can be, the crackling skin was a fool proof method. My pork came out just as nice as the photos, which was unbelievable for my first attempt. Thank you very much for this recipe.
mandy@ladyandpupsSeptember 17, 2015 at 1:03 PM
Leon, phew I’m glad it worked out!! good job!
AbbyDecember 31, 2015 at 5:14 AM
Thank you for this recipe. Before I couldn’t even dare to think of doing this but your recipe was super easy to follow! I lost some of the skin because the butcher scored the skin. Will remember for next time! And there wi definitely be a next time! Thank you for such an awesome recipe.
JeffreyFebruary 17, 2016 at 11:37 AM
Could you please explain to me what “3 slices of lemon peel” is. Is it the fruit or the rind? I grew up eating “lemon peel” as a snack. It was lemon fermented in the sun with sugar. A kind of sweet yet sour flavor. Perfect for “scratchy” throats. So if you could clarify it for me I’d really appreciate it. Looking forward to trying your “broke da mouth”, “onolicious” Cantonese roast pork.
Mahalo’s Nui Loa;
Jeff (808 State)
qDecember 20, 2016 at 8:28 PM
tried this recipe and it’s by far the most amazing pork crackle i have ever achieved ! really really really good!!! highly highly recommended!
Anne LemieuxMay 16, 2017 at 11:40 AM
In puncturing the skin for crisping, can you use a metal meat tenderizing tool with 48 or more metal spikes? (even Walmart has these for less then $20) It would seem to me to be an efficient way to puncture the holes in the skin to crisp up. The holes would be evenly spaced and take much less time to do the whole skin. If done right out of the refrigerator, you should have an easy time of keeping the spikes at just skin level without going into the meaty part of the belly.
mandy@ladyandpupsMay 16, 2017 at 12:03 PM
Anne, I’ve never used a meat tenderizer with spikes before, but it sure sounds like a great tool. If you do try it out, let me know how it works!
HenryAugust 12, 2017 at 10:25 AM
You should en be up with a whole lot of juice in the baking sheet correct?
In a second note- if I knew once the skin has been cooked thoroughly in liquid but still can be crisped up using skillet then the pork belly csn be cooked sous vide
mandy@ladyandpupsAugust 12, 2017 at 12:55 PM
Henry, there was some juice but not a whole lot I think. Do you mean you want to cook the whole thing sous Vide? That should work too.
Jianzhu YangAugust 12, 2017 at 3:15 PM
Wow the photos seem so good to be true, I cook a lot for my family specially when there are family reunion. I have cooked good pork bellys but not as good as those in your photos. Hope I can made those perfect cracking skins.
Alan Spedding (Cumbriafoodie)November 7, 2017 at 3:33 PM
This is one of those recipes that you look at once and then simply have to make it. I brined mine on Sunday and cooked it last night Monday. Left it pressing in the fridge this morning.
Gonna cook it tomorrow and serve it with 50/50 mash ( half salad potatoes and the equal weight in Butter )
Cant bloody wait.
STJanuary 8, 2018 at 8:53 AM
Many thanks for this awesome recipe but if I could ask a question please. I always seem to get the centre of the pork semi burnt so that bit of the skin firms up in the slow roasting stage and splits when jabbing holes later. Do you reckon this be got round by adding a bit of extra liquid (chinese wine say) to the foil before wrapping it up?
mandy@ladyandpupsJanuary 8, 2018 at 12:04 PM
ST, I see. You can certainly add a few tbsp of chinese wine into the foil ;)
NeilFebruary 17, 2018 at 3:08 PM
Hi Mandy, I found the pork belly collagen to stick to the pan? then when I attempt to peel it off the pan, some of the much desired skin is left on the pan. somewhat gummy?
mandy@ladyandpupsFebruary 17, 2018 at 10:10 PM
Neil, I would highly recommend using a non-stick pan. And if the skin is gummy, that means it isn’t fully crisped all the way through and has to be pan-fried longer.
WinnieFebruary 18, 2018 at 9:46 AM
I ended up making this for dinner tonight because all the local stores where sold out of roasted pork because everyone and their mother wanted it for the first day of the New Year. I told my mom that I would just make my own. My mom was very impressed. It’s extremely easy and very tasty. My mom was doubting that the skin would be crispy enough but she was pleasantly surprised when it was. I love your recipes and how it inspires me to make Chinese food.
Thank you for sharing your ideas and beautiful photos.
PeteJune 4, 2018 at 11:27 PM
Just wondering if you’ve ever tried to blister the skin under a broiler in the oven? Seems like most recipes out there on the internet use this method for crisping the skin. What are your thoughts??
mandy@ladyandpupsJune 4, 2018 at 11:43 PM
Pete, I don’t like that technique because it’s just impossible to get the same result… sorry.
Thirsty PigFebruary 22, 2021 at 2:42 AM
Aiyo! Looks amazing. I want to try some of your receipe tips with pork belly and the flattening bird. I think your ideas are interesting and innovative.