A couple of weeks ago, I roasted my first suckling pig. Aside from the cracklings, my favorite part of the pig was the pork belly which was even more tender and succulent than the rest of the meat. When I looked online for pork belly, I found several choices.
Snake River Farms offered 5-6 pounds, boneless with skin on for $109. Standard shipping (probably not a good idea given the warm weather) was only $9.99. Overnight shipping would have run me $79.99.
D’Artagnan offered 12-16 pounds, bone-in and skin on for $124.99. Overnight shipping via Federal Express would have been $68.96. Since I was looking for boneless cuts, I decided to pass on D’Artagnan.
Lobels offered fresh boneless pork belly with skin on for $41.95 for 2 pounds. I ordered 6 pounds for a cost of $125.85. This was a bit pricier than Snake Farms (especially if Snake Farms had provided 6 pounds instead of 5) but Lobels offered an overnight shipping cost of just $45.00.
I submitted my order and timed delivery for this past Wednesday (which happens be in the middle of my Spring Break). The shipment arrived at 11 AM in an insulated box packed with frozen ice.
I froze two packages but kept one to prep. I opened the package of pork belly, rinsed it off in the sink, and then dried it with a clean kitchen cloth.
Prior to making the marinade, I poked the skin with dozens of little pinholes using an Orblue 48-blade stainless steel manual meat tenderizer. The tenderizer has several rows of pointed stainless steel pins which I had to laboriously punch into the skin. Given how thick the skin was, it took a bit of effort to perforate the skin. When I was finished, the skin was covered with dozens of barely discernible perforations.
I then made a marinade using:
4 cloves of crushed garlic
4 tsp. of minced ginger
2 tsp. of five spice power
½ cup of light soy sauce
½ cup of hoisin sauce
½ cup of sweet rice wine,
½ cup of brown sugar
2 tsp. of peanut oil
I placed the pork belly in a small 12 x 7 ½ inch rectangular pan. The pan was just big enough to accommodate the pork belly. The amount of marinade I made was just enough to immerse the belly WITHOUT coating the skin.
After plastic wrapping the pan, I refrigerated it overnight.
In the morning, I removed the belly from the marinade. I prepped a similar sized pan for roasting and lined it with aluminum foil to facilitate cleaning. After filling the pan with an inch of water, I covered it with a rack and placed the marinated belly on the rack, skin side up. I then spread a cup of salt over the skin.
I preheated an oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and put the pork belly in the oven for 40 minutes. Here is what the meat looked like after forty minutes.
I took the belly out of the oven and checked the temperature. The internal temperature was 130 degrees Fahrenheit. I reset the oven to use the broiler and set the broiler temperature to low. While I was waiting for the broiler to heat, I removed the salt. Fat which had cooked up through the perforated skin had saturated the salt to create a crust which I was able to pull off as thin sheet. In the picture below, you can see me lifting the salty crust using the tip of a steak knife.
I discarded the crust and then used the knife to scrape off the remaining salt residue. The pork belly went back into the oven for about 30 minutes. Mindful of what happened the last time I tried to crisp some cracklings, I turned on the vent exhaust fan and opened the front door of the house as well as the back door to help generate some air flow. This time the smoke detector remained blessedly silent.
While the skin crisped under the broiler, I added some water to the marinade along with two teaspoons of bottled mustard, 2 teaspoons of white vinegar, a piece of star anise, and 2 Tablespoons of honey. I put the marinade in a sauce pan and brought it to a rolling boil. I then lowered the heat to a simmer.
After letting the pork belly rest for 30 minutes, I cut it into slices. As my serrated knife cut into the meat, I could hear the crackling of the crispy skin.
I plated the pork belly with some marinade. The honey provided a sweet overtone that went well with the sweetness of the brown sugar and the hoisin sauce. The vinegar and mustard provided an acidic and mildly spicy counterpoint.
The skin was deliciously crisp.. The meat was juicy and flavorful. Even without the sauce, I could taste the flavor of the marinade. The sticky rice (lightly coated with 2 different types of sesame seeds) was perfect for sopping up the juice and sauce.
All in all, this was much more fun (and far less troublesome) than roasting a suckling pig. My only regret is that I only bought 6 lbs. of pork belly. I now wish that I had doubled the original order.
Logging off from Southern Nevada!