The world is short on joy right now. Even basic tasks – going grocery shopping, picking up a bottle of wine, cooking dinner – are freighted with anxiety and uncertainty. But this week, as the reality of long-term quarantine is sinking in (and as I finally have my senses of smell and taste back after a run-in with COVID-19), I feel fired up.
I want to do everything I can to support local businesses – from bottle shops like Hop Burns & Black to neighbourhood greengrocers and independent butchers – as they fight to stay afloat. In the face of so much loss of control, I want to remind myself to stay in the present with accessible kitchen projects. And as spring arrives and Easter weekend is on its way, I want to make the most of the glorious weather – even if I can’t leave my house.
And so I tasked myself with writing a recipe for an indulgent weekend roast: the kind you could serve for Easter, or another special occasion, but which is easy to make and uses straightforward ingredients that major grocery stores and online delivery services (hopefully) still have in stock.
Despite the fact that it’s been elevated from off-cut to coveted pig part in the last few years, pork belly is still affordably priced, even if you’re picking up kilos at a time. It’s so ribboned with fat that you can leave it to cook for hours without worrying about dryness. And the crackling it yields – deep bronze, crisp enough to rattle your skull, lined with its layer of melting fat – is a culinary coup that’s impeccably easy to achieve.
This slow-roasted pork belly does take time – ideally, you want to marinate it overnight and it hangs out in the oven for a solid three hours – but most of that is hands-off. I wanted to accompany it with something spring-like, so I went for a zesty combination of new-in-season rhubarb, red onions, ginger and fresh herbs.
The resulting dish pairs perfectly with Ruth Lewandowski’s Feints. A co-ferment featuring white wine grapes (38% Arneis) and red wine grapes (32% Dolcetto,16% Barbera and 14% Nebbiolo) grown in California, this Utah-made wine is as tartly refreshing as cranberry juice (and, with its vibrant colour, is its visual doppelganger too). It’s made using carbonic maceration, a process in which whole clusters of grapes ferment anaerobically, and the resulting wine is lively, high in acid, poppy and almost candy-like, bursting with crunchy red fruit notes. It cuts effortlessly through the pork belly’s salt, crackling and unctuous fat.
Together, the two are worthy of any springy special occasion – or a simple celebration of the fact that you’ve managed to make it through yet another day in quarantine.
Slow-Roasted Pork Belly with Rhubarb and Herbs
For the pork belly:
1 ½ kg skin-on, boneless pork belly
1 ½ tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
For the vegetables:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
Small handful fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
2 red onions, peeled and sliced
Fine sea salt, to taste
600g rhubarb, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
Flaky sea salt, to taste
3 tablespoons runny honey
Juice of 1 orange
Fresh tarragon (optional)
1. The night before you plan to eat, prepare the pork belly. Using a very sharp knife, score the skin, being careful not to cut into the meat below the skin and fat.
2. Next, make the marinade. Add the coriander seeds and peppercorns to a small frying pan and place over medium-high heat. Toast for approximately 3–5 minutes, or until darkened and fragrant. Grind roughly with a mortar and pestle (or a spice grinder) before transferring to a small bowl. Next, add the salt, garlic and ginger to the mortar (or a food processor) and grind into a paste. Add to the bowl with the ground spices, and mix with half the olive oil, the orange zest, and the honey.
3. Apply the marinade to the sides and base of the pork belly meat, being careful to avoid the skin. Place the belly skin-side-up in a nonreactive roasting pan. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the skin and sprinkle over the flaky sea salt, working some into the scores you’ve cut. Leave uncovered in the refrigerator overnight (this will help dry out the skin and ensure your crackling is extra crispy).
4. The next day, remove the pork from the fridge roughly 1 hour before you plan to cook. Preheat the oven to 220° Celsius (425° Fahrenheit). Transfer the pork, skin-side up, to a wire rack and place on top of the roasting pan. Cook for roughly 20 minutes, or until the crackling starts looking crisp and darkened, before lowering the oven temperature to 180° Celsius (350° Fahrenheit). Roast for approximately 2 hours, or until the pork is very tender. Tent it loosely with foil if it’s getting too dark.
5. While the pork is cooking, prepare the vegetables. Place a large frying pan over medium-high heat and add the butter. Once melted, add the ginger slices. Cook for 2–3 minutes, or until softened. Add the sage and cook for an additional minute, stirring frequently. Add the onions and cook for 3–4 minutes more, until softened. Remove from the heat and season with fine sea salt to taste. In a separate bowl, add the rhubarb and olive oil, plus flaky sea salt to taste. Toss to mix. Set aside.
6. After roughly two hours, remove the pork from the oven and raise the heat to 220° Celsius (425° Fahrenheit). Take the pork and wire rack off the roasting pan and discard any grease that might have accumulated in it. Clean the pan if necessary before adding the rhubarb and the onion mix, stirring to combine. Drizzle over the honey. Carefully transfer the pork belly to the dish and place with the vegetable mix scattered around.
7. Roast for another 20 minutes, or until the pork belly’s crackling is deeply golden-brown and fully crisped, and the rhubarb and onions are softened. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 20 minutes. Squeeze the orange juice over the vegetables and garnish with the tarragon, if using. Carve the pork and serve with the rhubarb mix and any accumulated juices spooned over.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer and wine hound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen. Don’t miss out on Claire’s wine and food pairings, which go out every month in our Natural Wine Killers subscription boxes.