I have just returned from Nelson where I helped celebrate my good friend Pete’s significant birthday. Pete phoned me in an excited state the day before my arrival to tell me he’d just bought 16kg’s of pork-belly and that that would be the signature dish to celebrate his milestone.
And what a dish. The recipe comes from Gennaro Contaldo’s Italian cookbook Passione.
The dish is normally made with piglet – but these are hard to get as most piglets are grown for ham and bacon. So Gennaro makes a comfortable substitution with pork belly.
5 kg piece of pork belly (ask the butcher to trim off excess fat and remove the ribs)
25 g coarse salt
leaves from a large bunch of thyme
fresh rosemary needles roughly chopped
big bunch of sage leaves roughly chopped
1 tbspn of fennel seeds , or big bunch of fennel roughly chopped
8 cloves of garlic finely chopped
2 tbspns olive oil
6 tbspns runny honey
coarsely ground black pepper
Preheat the oven, or barbeque, to it’s highest setting. Lay the pork belly skin side down and sprinkle half the salt and the black pepper over it rubbing it in with your hands. Leave it to rest for 10 or more minutes. Sprinkle all the herbs and the garlic and the fennel (plant or seeds) over the meat.
Tie up the meat. To do this you’ll need many 30cm lengths of string. Roll up the meat (carefully) width ways (this will give you the longest length and smallest roll). Make the first tie in the middle. You need to do it tightly. Pete discovered it was much easier with two people – one person to hold and the other to tie. Continue tying from each end of the joint leaving gaps of around 2 cm between string. If any of the filling escapes then push it back in.
Massage 1 tablespoon of the olive oil all over the meat with your hands. Using the oil as a base rub more salt and pepper into the meat. Grease a large roasting pan with the remaining olive oil and place the pork in it. Roast at high temperature for 10 minutes, then turn the pork over. After 15 minutes reduce the heat to 150 ºC and cover the meat with foil. Roast for three hours.
If you don’t use the foil you’ll get crackling and it’ll be virtually impossible to slice.
Remove the joint from the oven (or BBQ) and coat with the honey and juices from the pan. Slice the joint thinly and serve with caramelised juice from the pan.
This was so delicious.
Gennaro also recommends eating the dish cold. He says it’ll keep for up to a week in the fridge. This morning we remove a joint from the fridge. It was much easier to slice a lot thinner and had the consistency of pressed ham. The aromatic flavour was glorious. I preferred eating it cold – while hot you really were aware of the amount of fat you were eating whereas cold was much more delicate taste and not so filling.
Given that streaky bacon is made with pork belly we fried a few slices in a nonstick pan (no need for oil), and ate it on ciabatta with poached eggs. I can’t recommend this highly enough.