So here is your guide to perfectly cooked pork belly, with a luscious gravy that will probably cause you to lick the pattern off your best china. As I said this is a serious business - you will need to start it at least one day before you intend to eat it, subjecting yourself to a whole world of denial induced pain as the house starts to smell like hog roast - but it is worth it, I promise you. When it comes to such matters I cannot tell a lie.
So, the day before you intend to feast. Preheat your oven to 170 degrees and remove your slab of pig from the fridge to bring it up to room temperature. Take a large roasting tin and into it place a couple of cooking apples, quartered and cored, two or three onions, peeled and halved, three or four whole, unpeeled cloves of garlic and some sprigs of thyme (you could also add other herbs at this point - some sage leaves perhaps, or some lemon thyme for a hint of citrus zing). Add a good splash (about 50mls) of dry cider and some salt and pepper. This is the trivet on which you will rest the pork while it roasts.
Take the pork out of the oven, transfer it to a large dish and allow it to cool completely.
Once it is cool, it is time to press the meat. This will compress the fat into an even, unctuous layer. Wrap it in greaseproof paper and sit it skin side up. Put a second large dish over the top and weigh it down - tins of beans are ideal for this. It needs to be pressed for at least 12 hours, preferably longer.
You will also want to transfer all the delicious remains of your fruit, veg and herb trivet into a saucepan, as this will form the basis of your gravy. Anything that has really burnt on to the roasting dish leave to the hands of the washer upper and don't try too hard to scrape it off as it will add a bitter, acrid note to the sauce
|One day, this will be gravy. Honest.|
You can now cut it into portions. You could try and eat the whole thing yourself but it would probably make you sick. Or fat. Or both.
Prior to serving you need to do a final cook to get the top seriously crispy and the meat warmed through. Turn the oven on to a low heat - about 150 degrees, and heat an oven proof pan on the hob. Place the meat in, skin side down and cook for about twenty minutes before transferring to the oven for a final ten minutes. You can also finish your gravy while the meat is cooking - to the scrapings from the roasting tray add 250mls of cider and another 250mls of chicken stock. Reduce briskly by about two thirds and then pass through a sieve. Next time we make this we intend to experiment with a beure manie (butter and flour paste) to thicken it slightly.
If you go in for very cheffy presentation, you can use chef rings to cut through the meat after its first pressing to end up with an elegant cylinder of meat. Keeping the pieces in the rings while doing the final cook will not only ensure retention of shape but will also guarantee a thin, almost toffee like crispy layer.
Here the meat is served with skordalia - a lemony, garlicky potato puree made with milk and olive oil. Good old mash would be glorious, of course, but the sharpness of the skordalia works really well with the richness of the meat.
Pork belly is emphatically NOT diet food. That piece pictured above came in at an eye watering 26 pro points - that is most of a day's allowance. However, for an occasional treat it is hard to beat, and if a day or so abstinence is required to enjoy it guilt free then so be it (although feel free to remind me of that sentiment if the scales spit in my face next Wednesday and I come on here to moan at you).