Pork belly can make really good eating but remember that it is a cheap cut of meat, and like all cheap cuts, it benefits from long slow cooking. For me it has to be melting tender with a crisp cracking skin and here in lies the problem - slow cooking does not good crackling make. You need to cook your pork twice to get this result and whilst this may sound like a faff, it does mean you can do most of the work several days in advance. I am aware that ladies who lunch avoid pork belly due to its fat content and unlike many chefs I have to say that I also dislike very fatty cuts. Belly does vary from pig to pig, butcher to butcher so ask to see the cut before you buy. Select an end or piece that has a higher proportion of lean meat, if it looks approx 50/50 raw, after cooking and rendering out the fat, it will be more like 75/25 meat to fat which is about perfect. For four:
Pork Belly - 1kg in one piece
Cider - 500ml
Rosemary - 4 large sprigsThyme - 4 sprigs
Garlic - 1 headFrisee - 1 head
Floury potatoes such as maris piper - 1kg
Frisee - 1 head
Smoked sausage - 200g
Mint - 1 bunch (approx 25g)
Parsley - 1 bunch (approx 25g)
Basil - 1 large bunch (approx 50g)
Capers - 1 large handful, well drained
2 anchovy fillets in oil (optional)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
First braise your pork belly. In a lidded casserole dish or a deep baking tray large enough to hold the whole pork belly, add the cider, thyme and half the rosemary. Set aside three fat cloves of garlic, smash the rest - skin and all - and add to the cider. Season the pork and lay skin side up into the cider. Cover with a lid or tightly cover with foil and gently bake at 140c for 21/2 to 3 hours. Your pork is cooked when you can push the handle of a spoon (or any other blunt object) easily through the skin and flesh, if it feels a little tough, cook for another 30 mins. Allow the pork to cool in the cooking liquor and when it is still warm, cover with cling film and then a flat tray or pan and weight down with several tin cans or other heavy objects. Refrigerate overnight. This 'pressing' squashes all the layers of fat and meat together and sets them as the fat and proteins congeal in the fridge. It makes the pork really easy to portion and is how restaurants get perfectly uniform squares of pork belly. All of the above can be done days in advance - just wrap the pork and leave in the fridge for up to 5 days.
To finish the dish set your oven to 220c. Peel and cut your spuds into 2cm dice. Toss into a roasting tray, oil, season and toss about to coat. Add your sprigs of rosemary and roast for 30 to 40 mins agitating every so often. Remove your pork from the braising liquor discarding any congealed fat. Lightly score the pork skin in a diamond pattern then portion the belly into generous squares. Keep and shred any trimmings - they make great taco fillings when crisped in a frying pan and served with a hot salsa.
Heat a frying pan which can go in the oven (no plastic handles) and fry the pork, skin side down on a medium heat. You want the skin golden, to have a crispy blistered layer and the fat underneath to be rendering out into the pan - in all this should take approx 10 mins so adjust the heat accordingly. When the pork skin is blistered and golden, flip onto the flesh side and put the pan in the oven with the potatoes to heat through and crisp further (the pork will need at least 15 mins so put in the oven half way through the spud cooking times). While the pork and spuds are cooking, make the salsa verde by blitzing the herbs, the remaining 3 cloves of garlic, capers, anchovy, lemon and a good glug of olive oil. You want the salsa verde to be just pourable so add more or less oil to get this consistency. Taste, season and add more lemon juice if required.
When your potatoes and pork are golden, crispy and nearly cooked, toss the chopped sausage into the potato roasting tray to warm through. Dress the frisee with a little olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Plate the frisee, top with the potatoes and sausage, then the pork belly. Top with a generous spoonful of salsa verde. Crispy spuds, crispy pork and maybe a crisp Italian white - the perfect lunch? Maybe not if you are on a diet.