The basic principles of making the perfect crackling seem simple enough, but they need to be adhered to in order to get the best result. To me there’s no point in having pork belly without crackling. If you score then dry the skin thoroughly, massage with salt, then blast your pork belly with a hellish heat, it will be transformed into the dinner table’s golden child. Moisture is crackling’s enemy, so ensure you don’t pierce the meat when scoring the skin. This will release the juices and render your crackling chewy and your meat dry. This dish will excite guests or family and leave them fighting for more!
1.5kg pork belly, skin scored at 5-10mm intervals in both directions
2-3 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2-3 onions peeled and sliced in three even pieces, long ways
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup of chicken stock
4 whole star anise
1/2 teaspoon Sichuan pepper
3 tablespoons of fish sauce
Juice of half a lime (or lemon but use a little more)
Fennel and Coriander Salad:
1 cup of coriander leaves
1 fennel bulb shaved (or thinly-sliced)
2 kaffir lime leaves, rolled up and very finely-sliced (optional as it’s hard to find fresh at this time of year)
2 spring onions, finely-sliced lengthways
1 red chilli, halved, de-seeded and finely-sliced
1. Preheat oven to 220 degrees. Pat pork belly skin dry with paper towel (the drier the better). Massage salt into the skin with hands. You can do this up to a day before, then re-dry and salt just before cooking for better results. Pour olive oil in roasting pan, then spread onion evenly on the bottom of the pan and place pork belly on top.
2. Place in hot oven for about 40 mins or until skin is crispy all over. You may need to turn pan if certain parts are not crackling.
3. Once you have the desired crackle, reduce heat to about 140 degrees. Pour in about a cup of wine, ensuring you don’t get the skin wet. Add a little water if the wine level gets low. Cook for a further 2 to 2.5 hours until your meat is succulent and falls apart easily.
4. Place the sugar, vinegar, Sichuan pepper and star anise in a small saucepan. Stir to dissolve sugar and bring to boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow sauce to reduce and thicken for about 5 mins. Add the chicken stock and reduce for another 7-8 mins or until reduced by half. Add fish stock and a squeeze of lime. Stir to combine.
5. Place herbs, lime leaves, fennel, spring onion and chilli in a bowl and mix gently with fingers. You can add a little olive oil and chardonnay vinegar here but it is fine undressed.
6. Remove pork belly from oven and allow to rest for 10-15 mins. Cut pork belly into 5cm squares. Either serve on individual plates and drizzle over the sauce and top with a pile of the herb salad, or serve on a platter. You can serve with rice and bok choy.