I think pork belly is the perfect roast for autumn, as
the weather gets a bit chilly – really indulgent and delicious, with plenty of
gorgeous crackling. It’s also the ideal partner for Braeburn apples, which are
a lovely autumn variety, and roasting the apples in the meat juices makes them
soft and juicy, a bit like the most amazing apple sauce. A final note: I
normally make my gravy with red wine, but to serve with pork, I’ve discovered
that gravy made with beer is rather fabulous.
A piece of pork belly, about 700g
A small bunch of fresh thyme
A packet of stuffing mix (I like Paxo)
depending on how hungry you are
Pork belly is a cheap cut that can be fabulous, but it
needs long, slow cooking to make it really tender and juicy. Start by
marinating it for at least three hours before you put it in the oven – to make
the marinade, mix the fennel seeds, garlic clove (chopped into a couple of
pieces), the thyme (leaves only), a good pinch of sea salt and a splash of
olive oil in a pestle and mortar, to make a thick paste. Turn the pork belly
skin-side-down and spread the marinade all over the fleshy part, then cover
with clingfilm and pop in the fridge.
When you’re ready to start cooking, preheat the oven to
200°C (180°C fan). Remove the pork belly from the fridge and on a wire rack
over a roasting tin, skin-side-up. Blot the skin carefully with a piece of
kitchen paper to remove extra moisture, and then sprinkle thickly with sea salt
(this will help it dry out and make really crispy crackling). Cook for 30
minutes. After 30 minutes, sprinkle the skin with a little lemon juice, turn
the temperature down to 180°C (160°C fan), and cook for a further 90 minutes.
When there are 30 minutes left on that timer, start
preparing the potatoes – peel and chop into nice chunky pieces, and then boil
for five minutes in salted water. Drain the water, add a generous scoop of
lard, a sprinkle of dried thyme (this is better for roasting, as it the flavour
can stand up to the heat better than the fresh stuff) and a good pinch of sea
salt, hold the lid on tightly, and give the pan a good shake, to coat the
potatoes in the fat and fluff up the edges. Transfer the potatoes to a roasting
tin and pop into the oven, below the pork. When the timer goes, turn the
temperature up to 220°C (200°C fan) and set a timer for 50 minutes.
Now is the time to start your gravy. I have no shame
about using gravy powder (or stuffing mix, to be honest) – when you’re spending
this much time on the meat, I think it’s ok to take a few shortcuts, plus I do
think you get really good results. Measure out 2 tbsp gravy powder into a jug,
add a splash of cold water and mix to a paste, before topping up with just over
a pint of cold water. Pour into a large saucepan (this will help it to thicken
faster) over a medium heat, and stir regularly until you’re ready to serve.
Next, sort out the stuffing and the apples. Make up the
stuffing mix according to the instructions on the packet (I like to add a scoop
of butter once it’s ready), then transfer to an ovenproof dish, press down
well, and put in the oven. Core the apples and chop into pieces about the same
size as the potatoes (make sure you remove any stickers!).
When there are about 30 minutes left on the timer, take
the pork out and use a sharp knife to remove the crackling – once you’ve
started it off, it should peel away quite easily. Return the crackling to the
wire rack in the oven, and wrap up the pork in tinfoil and then a tea towel to
rest and keep warm. Place the apples in the tin that was underneath the pork
(it should have some lovely meat juices in it) and return to the oven.
By now, the gravy should be giving off a fair bit of
steam and starting to thicken up. Add the beer (it’ll fizz up a bit, but the
bubbles will disappear – no one wants fizzy gravy!), and a pinch of dried thyme
and salt. Keep stirring.
Phew! When the timer goes again, everything should be
ready. Finely slice the pork, use your fingers to break up the crackling (it’s
the easiest way!) and then serve up with plenty of roast potatoes and apples,
stuffing and a generous splash of gravy.
It’s a long process but it’s oh so worth it.