Life is hard. Sometimes, cooking makes life marginally easier. Other times, it makes life immeasurably more difficult, and you never really know whether your hours spent toiling over the stove learning how to make your own tamarind paste or perfecting your fava bean shelling technique are actually going to improve your day-to-day existence. Every time you strap on the oven mitts, you’re taking a gamble.
Sometimes it pays off big, and you end up saving hours of roasting time every Thanksgiving for the rest of your life because you pressed play on a three-minute video tutorial on how to spatchcock a turkey. Other times, you dive into a three-week-long depression when you buy up every slab of pork belly in a 10-mile radius to try and make your own bacon in the jury-rigged smoker on your balcony and no matter what you do that slab of pig meat is either so severely oversmoked that it tastes like poison or so undersmoked that you’re just left with a giant hunk of ill-cooked meat to gnaw through for a week’s worth of depressing desk lunches.
Maybe cooking is about knowing when to give up. I’ve fully given up on making my own bacon. It’s just never going to happen. But, during that long, emotional hell ride, I forgot how good plain old roast pork belly can be. I lost my appreciation for one of life’s tastiest cuts of meat — and that right there is some bullshit. Here’s how to roast a fucking good pork belly, and do so without having an emotional breakdown.
First, buy up a big old slab of pork belly. Most commercial stores won’t carry it in their meat department — because they’re fascists — but you should be able to find it at any local butcher. Then, you need to quick-cure it. Take equal parts salt and sugar, whisk them together, then rub the mixture all over your meat. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then throw it in the fridge for at least 3 or 4 hours.
The salt and sugar is going to draw out some moisture from the pork belly, which you’ll need to discard before throwing it on a roasting rack and into a 450 degree oven for an hour. This is a close approximation of David Chang’s roast pork belly recipe that goes into his famous pork buns — but we’re not here to try and reinvent the wheel. That dude seems to know what he’s doing.
After the pork is nice and browned, almost charred, drop the oven down to 250 degrees or so, and cook for another 90 minutes to two hours until everything is nice and tender. There’s so much intramuscular fat in pork belly that it takes a special kind of stupid to overcook it. As hard as it is to make your own bacon, good roast pork belly is disgustingly easy.
Once the pork belly has stewed in its own juices for long enough, take it out of the oven, let it cool down to room temp, then toss it in the fridge to tighten back up. That way, you can take your pork belly out of the fridge, and slice off fat hunks to use at your own discretion. I threw it in a baguette sandwich with pickled carrot and daikon, jalapeno, cilantro, and mayonnaise mixed with some vague brown sauce called Maggi that you should buy immediately.
But by no means do you have to use your roast pork belly to make a banh mi. Cut the slab into cubes, brown them in oil, and throw them on top of some Kraft Easy Mac for a quick afternoon pick-me-up. There’s no wrong way to go here. Unless you’re trying to make your own bacon. That is definitely the wrong way to go.
Still hungry? Check out other installments of Bite Club here.
Photos by All photos by Josh Scherer