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.
Slow-Roast Pork Belly with Roasted ApplesPrint Recipe
- A piece of pork belly, about 700g
- A small bunch of fresh thyme
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- 2 cloves of garlic
- Coarse sea salt
- Lemon juice
- Olive oil
- To accompany:
- 3 large potatoes
- Dried thyme
- 2 Braeburn apples
- A packet of stuffing mix (I like Paxo)
- For the gravy:
- Gravy powder
- 100ml beer
- Dried thyme
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.