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By July 05, 2015 ,

Crispy pork belly used to be the sign that you have reached Chinatown. You know, racks after racks of freshly roasted pork belly and roast duck hanging off the metal hooks on full display in the shopfront. With its crispy, golden skin and juicy, tender meat, we all know it was only time before the crispy pork belly became a food trend and staple on cafe menus.

Indeed, over the past few months, I had sampled pork belly dishes in two trendy cafes across Melbourne (See: Chez Dre and Ora Cafe). The clever chefs had transformed the humble Chinese fare into gourmet stuff with sides and plating options ranging from red cabbage slaw to salsa sauce. As delicious as these cafe fares are, I always cringe a little when I see the price ($24 for a 4x4cm slice of pork belly!)

Although I think the food is worthy of that price point and more than happy to pay for it, as a young couple saving for our first-home deposit and our future, we have got to come up with a more cost-effective way to feed our appetite for good food.

I guess that was my primary drive to figure out what goes into making the pork belly go all crackling and golden-brown. It does seem like a complicated process: Some say scalding the pork belly skin with hot water; some say just dry the pork belly and cake a thick layer of salt over the pork belly; Some recipes marinate the pork (Excluding the skin) in marinade, while keeping keeping the skin dry...

There are probably a billion ways out there to get the perfect crackling, but as an amateur pork-belly roaster, I was after a super simple recipe. So, compiling what I've read on the internet (primarily the first three pages of Google search result), I've came to the conclusion that prep work is the most important when it comes to getting a good crackling. Ignore all the fancy ingredients: You only require salt, olive oil and patience to wait for the pork belly to rid itself of moisture, and you will get a good crackling, I promise.

As with any good roast, it does take a while to cook: Blast your oven at 220C to roast the pork belly skin first (30 minutes) to "set the scene" for the crackling, then turn the oven down to 180C to slow-roast it for an hour.

While your pork belly is bubbling and cooking in the oven, it is time to prepare the sides. Frankly I could've gone with a bowl of jasmine rice, but I decided to go all fancy-pants and prepared some caramelised cinnamon apple, with hopes that the apple's sweetness and acidity will counter the fatty pork belly. I envisioned the pork belly slices to sit on a bed of mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach that will absorb the pork belly juices, which actually turned out pretty delicious. So I will keep that in mind when I prepare steak and mash in the future.

I was really happy with the result of my labour and we had plenty of leftover, which was turned into stir-fried goodness in the following days - all that from a $18 slab of pork belly.

So, here is the recipe. Please do give it a go and let me know how yours turn out:

Crispy Crackling Pork Belly With Caramelised Cinnamon Apple
on a bed of sautéed spinach and creamy mashed potato (serves 4)

1.2kg of pork belly, scored (most butchers can help you score the pork belly)
1 cup of salt
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 granny smith apple
1 tbsp of brown sugar
1 tbsp of cinnamon powder
1 knob of butter

1. Pat dry pork belly (scored) with paper towel, making sure to pat dry the cuts too. Now, rub the skin, with salt, making sure that the cuts are covered with salt too. Sit your pork belly on a baking tray and chill in the fridge (uncovered) for at least 2 hours or overnight. This is a crucial step to getting a good crackling as the salt and dry fridge air ensures that no moisture is left on the pork belly.

2. Preheat oven to 220C.

3. Brush your pork belly skin with olive oil. Then, pop your salted pork belly into the hot oven for 30 minutes. Then, turn the oven down to 180C and roast for 45 minutes, by which time the pork belly skin should have turned to crispy crackling. Your pork belly is ready when the juices run clear. If the crackling is not crispy enough for your taste, pop it back in the oven for another 15 minutes.

4. While your pork is cooking, boil the potatoes and prepare the mash with your favourite mashed potato recipe. (Recipe)

5. Peel apples and, leaving them whole, remove the cores and cut the apple into 1.5cm - 2cm thick slices. Heat a medium frying pan on medium and add butter. Place apple into pan and caramelise gently for 2 minutes each side, until light golden. Sprinkle some brown sugar, scatter over cinnamon. Allow to bubble and melt for 1 min. Cook for another 3 minutes until apples are tender and sauce is syrupy.

6. When the pork is ready, take it out of the oven and allow the meat to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. This allows the juices to be redistributed and it will result in juicy, tender meat.

7. While your pork belly is resting, heat up a sauce pan and sautéed some spinach. (recipe)

8. Thickly slice pork and serve with mashed potato, spinach and the apple slices.

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