These are challenging times.
The talk at work is of mergers and takeovers, arrears and repossession, cost reduction and redundancy.
People are feeling the pinch.
A slowly roasted pork belly can’t fail to lift the mood. A cheap, easy and forgiving cut, pork belly is at it’s best when cooked lazily in a low oven, the fat allowed to melt away, the skin to crisp and the flesh to gently cook.
Preparation is simple. A one kilo joint will be enough for four, or two with enough left over for some first-rate sandwiches the next day, and maybe the odd late night fridge raid.
If the butcher hasn’t done it already, score the skin. This is vital if you want crackling, and there is no point cooking a pork belly if you don’t. A razor blade or craft knife is necessary. Even the sharpest, most expensive piece of finely engineered German steel will struggle where a cheap fifty pence Stanley knife blade will have no difficulty.
Make sure the skin is completely dry, then season it generously with salt, pushing some into the cracks in the skin, before laying the joint in a roasting tin on top of a couple of sprigs of rosemary and a few bay leaves, maybe some garlic cloves too.
Put the joint in a hot oven, at least 225c, and immediately turn the heat right down to 140c. This initial blast of heat is for the skin, and helps the crackling crackle.
Cook gently for three hours, then turn the heat down further to 130c and cook for another hour.
Check the crackling. If it isn’t to your liking, increase the heat again and continue to cook for another ten or fifteen minutes, until the required level of crispness is reached.
Let the joint rest in a warm place for ten minutes or so, before removing the crackling, carving the meat and serving. The meat will be tender and moist, the crackling crisp and crunchy, a bit too salty.
A slow roasted pork belly needs little attention, but it does need a lot of time, so much that you may need to arrange your whole day around cooking it. The kitchen will be filled with the irresistible smell of roasting pork.
Serve with something simple and straightforward, some steamed vegetables or a salad, with roast potatoes. Nothing too fancy.
This is a frugal dish, and the meat deserves to speak for itself.