Generally, I leave the bacon making to my butcher, Kevin. He’s a pro with the cure and smoke. But this year was different. I shared a local pig–raised, incidentally in the high plateau where my husband grew up, not far from here but another world away at Amaranta Farm–with a friend this year.
She preferred to leave all the cuts of this Red Wattle pork uncured, so I went along for the ride. That meant fresh hams (leg), ground pork and a whole side of pork belly.
In other words, fresh pork cuts to play around with!
You see when you get a ham, or breakfast sausage or bacon, all the good culinary messing around has pretty much been done for you. It’s convenient and guaranteed delicious and all you have to do is apply the heat.
But when it’s all fresh (then frozen), the possibilities open up. Case in point–the pork belly stored in my freezer.
Pork Roast Options
Once defrosted, I had options–to be followed by decisions. Option #1 was to turn the whole side of pork belly (that’s the entire section from one half of the pig) into bacon.
But what if I cut it into two slabs? Multiple pieces of pork belly created option #2: make bacon and do something creative with this insanely popular cut.
This short video demonstrates three different ways to cook it–braising, pressure cooking and sous vide.
I had another idea: a roast pork belly.
I adore slow-roasted pork shoulder, which is the cut to make carnitas and other wonderful, melt-in-your-mouth dishes. But the shoulder isn’t the only pork cut you can slow roast.
By using the dry heat of the oven you can cook this tough cut through and then increase the heat to crisp up the layer of fat on top.
Because, really, the words crispy pork belly are irresistible.
The inspiration for this roast pork came from one of my favorite cookbooks of all time: Nigel Slater’s Appetite. It all starts with a savory rub, a slow roasting and a high-heat blast for browning.
By roasting the pork over a rack, the drippings flavor the squash and onion to make a complete dish for Sunday supper.
Pork Belly Roast with Onions & Butternut Squash
There are many advantages to this recipe, simplicity being a big one. Score the pork and apply the salt seasoning rub 24 to 48 hours in advance of cooking for extra succulence. This is a one-dish meal that is excellent with a dry hard cider or a crisp white wine, like Riesling.
- 1 3 to 4-pound slab pork belly skinless or skin on
- 4 cloves garlic peeled
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 onion peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 small butternut squash about 6 cups, peeled, seeded and cut into thin wedges
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Use the tip of a very sharp knife to make shallow cuts into the fat side of the pork belly without cutting into the meat. Make the cuts parallel to one another about two inches apart, then crisscross these cuts by slicing in the other direction.
With a mortar and pestle or in a food processor, make the seasoning salt by crushing the garlic, bay leaves and thyme with the fennel, pepper and salt. Rub this all over the pork and into the score marks. Place the pork in a dish and leave it overnight in the refrigerator uncovered, ideally, or for at least 1 hour at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Transfer the pork to a roasting pan with a rack and roast for 3 to 3 1/2 hours or until you can push a skewer in and out of the meat easily.
Raise the heat to 400°F and lift the pork on its rack out of the roasting pan. Toss the onion and squash into the fatty liquid in the bottom of the pan along with the vinegar. Roast for 30 minutes until softened and starting to brown.
Place the pork on its rack on top of the vegetables and continue roasting until the pork is crisp and very browned, 15-20 minutes more.
To serve, slice the pork belly into 1-inch thick slices with a serving of the onions and squash.
If your pork belly comes with the skin, simply score it as directed in the recipe and enjoy some extra crispy deliciousness on your roast. Lucky you! (My butcher removes the skin, so it’s never an option for me.)
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