Pork Belly

I love Saturdays!  Of all the days of the week, Saturday is, by far, my absolute favourite...mostly because Rob and I get to spend the entire day together.  If we decide to leave the comfort of home we usually begin the day with an amazing breakfast at one of our Saturday hang outs, where we sip coffee, read the papers, giggle at each others’ horoscopes for the coming week, pick at each others’ plates of breakfast (usually bacon and eggs in one form or another), and just relax!  It is complete bliss.  Then, in order to ‘walk off’ our ‘food babies’ we usually stroll through the surrounding stores, antique shops and food grocers and it’s not long before our minds turn our attention towards dinner.  Our Saturday night dinners are a true ritual for us.  We are SO not the socialite couple!  We love staying in and being at home!  So for us cooking the perfect Saturday night supper is all part of the fun.  And yesterday, divine intervention met us in a truly inspirational way with the thought of one amazing ingredient...Pork Belly!
Warning: To all of my lovely vegetarian friends, please avert your eyes now.  Thank you.
For those remaining carnivorous comrades, let’s begin.  I find it so difficult to understand how anyone could be vegetarian.  I know, I know, there’s the whole killing a cute animal thing, cruelty etc and yes there are amazing dishes that exist on this planet that ‘happen’ to be meat free, but to do this intentionally, for the rest of your life, by choice...to me equals madness.  Usually I wouldn’t care so much but last night we had the most incredible dinner...ever.  Pork Belly.   And the thought of missing out on such a gorgeous, almost primordial pleasure due to a lifestyle choice is too much for me to stomach. 

Pork Belly is an amazing cut of meat.  As the name suggests, pork belly is a boneless cut of fatty meat derived from the belly of a pig.  It’s spectacular because it gives the highest ratio of crackling to meat ever.  And when cooking last night’s supper, my goal was to achieve the perfect balance between the crispy, salty crackling and the soft, rich, tender pork meat.  And I did it! 
Our perfect pork adventure started with the making of a salt rub for the piggy.  Basically, I combined seasoned salt (which is salt combined with black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves...anything you like really), fennel seeds and rosemary to create an intense, flavour packed rub that I worked into the skin of the pork, making sure that it got into every nook and cranny.  I then left the pork to marinate in the fridge for a few hours.   
Once the time was up I turned the oven on as hot as it would go and while it was preheating I turned my attention to the side dishes; roasted potatoes and green beans with pangrattato.  My only rule to cooking the perfect roast potato is to par-boil the spuds before placing them in the oven.  You simply pop the peeled and quartered spuds into a big pot of salted boiling water for 8-10 minutes, drain and return potatoes to the pot.  You then drizzle the spuds with olive oil, salt, freshly ground black pepper and rosemary and swirl the potatoes around the pot to slightly ‘break up’ the potatoes, the aim being to create a textured, fluffy surface so that once in the oven the outside will brown, crisp and crackle resulting in the perfect roasted potato (soft and fluffy interior and a perfectly crisp textured skin). 
To ‘spice up’ the beans I made a ‘pangrattato’ which is basically Italian for a breadcrumb topping.  In a food processor I whizzed up stale ciabatta bread, garlic, parsley, lemon rind and olive oil until breadcrumbs formed.  I then fried the mixture until golden and crisp and sprinkled over blanched green beans and served with lemon wedges.
OK, back to the pork!  Once in the oven I have to admit watching the pork skin slowly bubble and blister was an amazing sight.  Rob and I were like two overly excited kids on Christmas morning as we sat at the oven’s edge watching the pork drama unfold, mouths watering as we knew we were watching the creation of possibly the best pork crackling we’d ever tasted.  However, it took adult levels of patience and discipline to stop us from constantly taste testing the pork crackling for quality control.  Eventually we made it and what emerged from the oven was a beautiful sight to see and most definitely worth our unwavering patience, perfectly cooked pork belly with gorgeous, crispy, salty crackling, and juicy, tender, luscious meat.  Ah yes, the perfect way to celebrate just another Saturday night in.  K xxx

Pork Belly
2 kg piece boneless pork belly (skin on and REMEMBER to get your butcher to score the skin)
2 rosemary sprigs, leaves picked
1 tbs fennel seeds
1 lemon, zested
4 tablespoons seasoned salt (seasoned with black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves.  If unavailable, use regular salt)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, sliced 1 cm thick
Roast Potatoes –
6 potatoes, washed, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 rosemary sprig, leaves picked
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 red onions, peeled and quartered
6 garlic cloves
Green beans with pangrattato -
4 slices sourdough bread, roughly torn
3 garlic cloves
1 lemon, zested
1 large handful of flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
500gm green beans, topped
30g unsalted butter
Lemon wedges, to serve
Place rosemary, fennel seeds, zest and seasoned salt on a chopping board and slowly run your knife through the mixture until rosemary and fennel seeds are chopped and mixture is well combined.   Rub the salt mixture into pork skin. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 220°C.  Place pork in a roasting pan directly on top of sliced onion.   Rub olive oil into skin, and then roast for 30 minutes.   Meanwhile, place potatoes into a large saucepan of salted boiling water and cook for 8-10 minutes, drain and return potatoes to pan, drizzle the potatoes with olive oil, salt, freshly ground black pepper and rosemary and swirl around the pot to slightly ‘break up’ the potatoes.  After the pork has had its first 30 minutes in the oven, reduce heat to 160°, add potatoes, red onion and garlic to the pan and return to oven for 1 hour or until skin is crisp and juices run clear.
While pork is in the oven, combine bread, garlic, zest, parsley and olive oil in a food processor and pulse until crumbs form.  Heat a large frypan over medium/high heat and fry crumbs until golden and crispy, set aside.  Blanch beans in a saucepan of boiling water for 2-3 minutes, drain and return to saucepan over low heat and add butter, once the butter has melted add a big squeeze of lemon juice and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Place beans on a serving platter and sprinkle with breadcrumb mixture.
When the pork is done remove potato, onion, garlic and pork from pan and cover loosely with foil.  Rest for 15 minutes.   Thickly slice pork and serve with roasted potatoes, green bean pangrattato and lemon wedges.
NOTE: If after all of the cooking time in the oven the crackling ‘just ain’t happening’ my advice is to turn off the oven and use the grill instead.  For the last 10 minutes or so of cooking I opted for this option.  Basically, turn the grill onto high heat and place the pork on the middle shelf of the oven and keep your eye on it!  You will see the pork skin bubble and blister and turn into the most amazing crackling ever.  JUST KEEP YOUR EYE ON IT!!!

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