Crispy confit pork belly
Next time the occasion arises for you to cook a beautiful meal for your loved ones or lucky dinner guests, please give this a try. You can either serve this pork belly as an entree, in finger slices with a few microgreens as garnish (as above), or if you wanted it as a main, serve it with golden kumara puree and a crisp fresh salad made from thinly sliced cabbage, spring onions, shaved fennel bulb, red onion and sliced orange segments with lemon juice & olive oil dressing.
There’s more than one way to cook a pork belly – and let me tell you right now this is certainly not the quick way. However, this is the most delicious way to prepare it (in my humble opinion) and the results will delight you. There are three processes involved to get it perfect – brining, confit and then crisping it up. The great thing about it is that you can get your brine and confit done up to a week in advance, then just do the last stage in less than half an hour on the day.
Cooking the pork belly ‘en confit’ is a foolproof and forgiving method that will result in a rich, flavoursome, tender, succulent meat (I’ve explained a bit more about what confit and brining means at the bottom of the page). And it doesn’t take a nutritionist to work out that meat cooked this way isn’t exactly health food. It’s a treat, and an exceptionally delicious one at that. Fortunately, the time it takes to prepare this dish will be enough to prevent you from just making it on a whim whenever you feel like indulging!
1 litre warm water
1 litre cold water
250g salt (uniodised)
1/3 cup sugar
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 whole 1kg – 1.5gkg pork belly (I used Harmony free range)
2 litres melted lard, melted duck fat, rice bran or canola oil, or a mixture
1 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 cup tinned black doris plums, drained, pitted, roughly chopped
¼ cup chicken stock
½ tsp Chinese 5 spice
¼ tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper
Add the salt and sugar to the litre of warm water in a bowl and whisk until dissolved. Pour into a large plastic container then add the cold water, rosemary, garlic, fennel and pork belly. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours. Remove the pork from the brine and rinse under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brine.
Preheat the oven to 100c. Place the dry pork in a small roasting tray (only just big enough to fit the pork so you don’t need as much oil/fat) and add enough oil/fat to submerge it. Cover the tray in a double layer of tinfoil and cook for 4-5 hours or until pork is meltingly tender.
At this point, it’s best to wait until the pork is completely cool so it’s easier to cut. Trying to cut it still warm is near impossible. Once cooled, you can either move to the next step straight away, or keep the whole thing covered in the fridge for up to up to a week until you need it.
Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add the garlic and shallots, and cook for 5-7 minutes until soft. Add the plums, chicken stock, Chinese 5 spice and chilli. Simmer for 10 minutes until reduced slightly. Stir through the butter. Puree the sauce or pas through a sieve, taste and season with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm.
Crisping up the pork
Preheat the oven to 180c. Remove the pork from the fat and scrape all the excess fat/oil/lard off that it’s been sitting in. Place the meat on a chopping board and trim the edges it’s nice and neat and even. Slice into rectangles. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan over medium heat, and add a splash of canola oil. Place the pork pieces skin side down and fry for a few minutes until the skin is golden and crispy, then carefully transfer to the oven for 5- 10 minutes to finish heating it through.
Serve the sliced pork belly on plates with a dollop of sauce and your choice of sides.
Food for thought
A little about confit – Confit, a French term, is one of the oldest ways to preserve meat – it came about centuries ago before the modern miracle of refrigeration. A true confit, to the French, is duck or goose that has been salted then cooked immersed in its own fat (once the meat and fat is cooled, it keeps for several months).
In this day and age, while we may have lost the need to preserve our meat to survive, we certainly haven’t lost our taste for confit. What was once eaten by humble peasants in poor provincial France is now flashed around on gilded menus in some of the best restaurants in the world (and hopefully appearing soon on your own dining room table). Here in New Zealand we use the term confit for meat a little more loosely – confit can apply to pork, chicken and other meats as well as duck and goose. A traditionalist would cook the each type meat in its own fat (so for pork, you’d use lard); and because we don’t need the fat to set to preserve the meat, nowadays it’s common to use good quality oil, or even a blend of oil and animal fat. It’s really up to you. I used half duck fat and half rice bran oil.
Brining – Brining the pork first adds a significant amount of water to it before you cook it, again making it more juicy and tender. Water drains out of meat as it cooks – so the more you put in at the beginning, the more you’re left with at the end. You can skip this step if you’re short on time.