Crispy Pork Belly

脆皮烧肉 (红皮赤壮)Roast Pork
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Crispy Pork Belly

A must have during Chinese New Year (红皮赤壮) and family gatherings as it symbolises wishes for good health. Nobody gets sick of it, neither can they resist a good piece of crispy pork belly especially if its home cooked.

Recipe created / adapted from numerous sources over the years, including but not limited to: Woks of Life, Chinese Crispy Roasted Pork by Garden Time (this is my main reference point for the traditional method), and a Gordon Ramsay cooking show (can't remember which one!)

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Prep Time 3 hrs Cook Time 90 mins Total Time 4 hrs 30 mins Difficulty: Beginner

Instructions

Season the pork

    1. Use an ice pick, sharp metal skewer or roast pork pick to prick as many tiny holes as you can on the skin. Avoid piercing deep into the fat, and ensure you do not pierce through the skin into the flesh (see notes).

    2. Turn the pork belly upside down. Rub the flesh (not skin) with Chinese cooking wine, five spice powder, salt and pepper. Give the meat a good massage all over including sides while avoiding the skin.


    3. Brush wine on the skin and hang the seasoned meat up on a rack to air dry for 3 hours or more.
    4. To season the meat overnight, turn skin side up and place in a container. Refrigerate uncovered for 12 hours (max 24 hrs, min 3 hrs).


Roast the pork

  1. Preparation
    1. Remove pork from fridge and hang it up to dry on a rack at least half hour before roasting.

    2. Place pork skin side up on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Fold up sides of foil around the pork like a boat and enclose it snugly (see photo) with a 1.5cm or 1/2" rim above the pork to hold the salt crust in.

    3. Transfer pork to baking tray. Dab skin with paper towels.


    4. Brush skin with vinegar or chinese wine.

    5. Spread rock salt on the skin (the foil edges will stop it from falling down the sides).

    Source: ChinaSichuanFood.com
  2. Roasting with Convection oven
    1. Preheat oven to 160C (320F) before preparing the aluminum boat for the pork.
    2. Roast in the middle rack for 60 minutes.

    3. Remove pork from oven and transfer onto work surface.

    4. Pre-heat oven to 200-220C or switch to grill/broiler on medium high (if your oven has the function). 

    5. Fold down foil and scrape all the salt off the top and sides. Discard the salt.

    6. When the oven is pre-heated, return the pork to the oven in the middle rack to broil for 10 - 25 minutes, rotating tray once, until skin is golden, crispy and puffed. Do keep an eye on the pork every 5 minutes as it burns very quickly once the skin is sufficiently roasted.

  3. Roasting with Air Fryer
    1. Fit the pork in the aluminum boat into the air fryer basket. You may have to cut the pork belly into 2 and place side by side like a square in the aluminum boat if it is too long for your basket.
    2. Set to air fry under medium-high setting (160C) for 1 hour.

    3. Remove pork from oven and transfer onto work surface.

    4. Fold down foil and scrape all the salt off the top and sides. Discard the salt.
    5. Air fry the pork at the highest possible temperature setting in your fryer (if its below 200, the skin might not be as crispy as desired) for 10 minutes.

    6. Check for blisters on the skin for crispiness. Air fry at the highest possible setting for a further 5 minutes then check again. Repeat process until skin is golden, crispy and puffed.

Serve the dish

    1. Remove pork onto a clean cutting board for cooked food. Slice into 1 cm thick slices to serve.

    2. Serve neat without sauce or with chili sauce, honey or mustard if desired. You can use American Yellow mustard, English Dijon mustard or wasabi.

    3. You can also eat this wrapped in fresh Chinese lettuce leave with chili sauce and a slice of fresh garlic if desired. Alternatively, wrap in a small piece of lettuce with your desired dipping sauce and wrap a lotus leaf bun (扣肉包)over it.

Note

  1. Pork belly - try to get one with even thickness, it will make the best evenly cooked crackling. Look for pork belly with lovely ribbons of fat streaking through it or good marbling. Lean meat will produce drier roasts.
  2. Chinese cooking wine (Shaoxing wine) - sub with dry sherry (near perfect) or Mirin (very good sub). Unless you're allergic to alcohol, don't skip it as wine helps to tenderise the meat.
  3. Chinese Five Spice Powder - a spice mix used in Chinese cooking with 5 spices that's widely available at everyday supermarkets.
  4. Rock Salt is called for because it's easy to remove and also the salt doesn't slip down into the holes which would make the pork too salty.
  5. Skin piercing  - If you pierce the fat too much (a bit is ok) or flesh, then after you remove the salt crust and place it under the grill/broiler, juices will bubble up onto the skin and prevent the skin from getting crispy. It's not the end of the world if you have a handful of pricks that went too deep, you will just get tiny splotches or little strips of skin that's hard and not crispy. 
  6. Broiling - Ensure the pork isn't too close to the heat source. That's the key to an even golden crackling, rather than burnt splotches here and there. There should be at least a 5-6" gap from the top of the skin to the heating element.
  7. Foolproof Easy Method - Use this if pricking is not an option. Makes super crispy crackling and the same juicy flesh, but without the bubbly crackling. It's really really good and super easy. 
    • Follow recipe up to and including brushing with vinegar but do not prick skin.
    • Cover skin with rock salt per recipe, OR use 1 cup kosher/cooking/table salt (enough to cover skin about 3 - 5 mm / 1/8 - 1/5" thick). If you use fine grain salt, make sure the foil is VERY snug around the edges - if salt falls down the sides, it will make the flesh salty.
    • Roast as per recipe and scrape off salt.
    • Instead of flicking to grill/broiler, turn the oven up to 240C/465F. For this method, oven works better to make skin crispy.
    • Place pork on a rack and return to baking tray, roast for a further 30 minutes or until crackling is golden and crispy.
  8. Servings - A piece of moderate marbling pork belly of 1 kg or 2lb raw (with 30% shrinkage after cooking) serves 4-6 as part of a multi course meal or as a starter. 
  9. STORING / MAKE AHEAD: You can cook this up to 3 months ahead of time and deep freeze it wrapped tightly in aluminum foil and then vacuum sealed (or minimally wrapped tight like a mummy with cling wrap). To reheat, totally defrost the meat on a sheet of kitchen paper towel, then heat in a pre-heated convection over at 180C for 10 minutes. After 5 minutes, check on the meat and adjust the temperature up or down if necessary. If the oven is too hot, the skin will burn and the meat will dry up. If its too cool, the skin will become soggy. If you had sealed the meat tight during the freezing, the skin will remain light and crispy.
  10. Recipe created / adapted from numerous sources over the years, including but not limited to: Woks of Life, Chinese Crispy Roasted Pork by Garden Time (this is my main reference point for the traditional method), and a Gordon Ramsay cooking show (can't remember which one!).
Keywords: crispy, pork, belly, roast
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