I made some crispy roast pork for dinner the other night.
I used to buy it from Chinese restaurants and markets, either as a whole slab ($7-$10 per pound) that I would slice myself at home or 10 pre-sliced pieces served over rice ($3-$5) as a take-out meal. However, the price of everything these days is a lot more expensive than it used to be. It’s much more economical to buy the raw pork belly and make your own crispy roast pork belly at home.
If you have a Latin or Asian supermarket nearby I suggest buying your fresh meats there. I’ve noticed that poultry and meat at non-chain supermarkets tend to be significantly cheaper in comparison.
I was able to get pork belly at $1.99/lb at my Chinese market. I usually buy pieces that are 2.5-3 pounds in weight for crispy pork. The particular piece I’m showing here is 2.5 lb so it was just under $5 total. A piece this size is enough to serve a family of four with leftovers to spare…served with rice and one or two veggie side dishes, of course, to make a balanced meal.
From experience, butchers can be sly so make sure to inspect the meat before you buy. They generally sell the pork belly meat side up, skin side down or in a way to disguise the flaws. I asked my father to swing by the market for me, and although my dad selected a good piece of meat at the butcher counter, he forgot to ask the butcher to show him the skin side. As a result, I ended up with pork belly with an unsightly gash in the skin. It really didn’t matter to me but if I had planned on serving it to company it wouldn’t look very pretty.
The ingredients to make the wet rub/paste couldn’t be easier. All you’ll need are:
- 1/2 tablespoon white or black pepper
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon table salt
- 1 tablespoon Chinese five spice powder
- 2 cubes of fermented red bean curd
Obviously I used black pepper which is why my paste looks so dark. Not too much salt for this particular rub because the fermented red bean curd is incredibly salty. If you’ve every tasted miso paste which is also a fermented product, fermented red bean curd has a similar type of intense saltiness but the flavor is different.
Fermented red bean curd doesn’t look pretty but it’s one of the main ingredients (the other being five spice powder) that gives Chinese crispy roast pork its distinctive flavor. It took me a few tries making crispy pork without the fermented bean curd before I realized how essential it is. You can find it at any Chinese supermarket.
To begin making crispy roast pork, first you need to par-cook the skin in boiling water for a minute. In a pan big enough to hold your pork belly, fill it with just enough water and 1 tablespoon of vinegar to cook the skin. In other words, less than 1/2 an inch of water. Boil the pork belly, skin side down, for a minute only and then pull it out and place it in a tupperware container.
With the skin-side down, pierce or score the meat all over. Next, spread the wet rub mixture on every exposed side (not the skin).
Flip the pork back over and rub 1 teaspoon of table salt into the skin.
Now, place the container holding the pork belly in the refrigerator, uncovered and skin-side up, overnight. Doing so will dry out the skin and enable it to crisp up more easily in the oven.
The next day, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the pork belly on a baking rack set over a baking pan. Add a little water into the pan to prevent the dripping fat from burning and smoking in the oven. Brush away any excess salt on the skin that didn’t dissolve and absorb into the skin. Pierce or score the skin all over and rub a little vinegar onto the skin. This will help the fat render and the skin crisp faster.
Place the pan with the pork belly in the oven and bake 1-2 hours. The baking time will depend on your oven but you’ll want to wait until you see the skin has blistered all over completely.
The skin should not be smooth when the meat is cooked properly. Although it might look golden brown and delicious, if you try to eat it the skin will be hard, tough, and leathery like a dog’s rawhide bone. And underneath that tough skin, there will still be a thick layer of unappetizing, jiggly fat. Yuck.
Some say that the only truly foolproof way to determine “done-ness” is to roast the pork until the skin’s surface blackens entirely so that you know that all the fat underneath the skin has rendered. Then go in with a knife and scrape away the black bits like you would a slightly burnt piece of toast. I’ve done so before and it works but the skin afterwards looks gritty and not as interesting in my opinion; however, using the burn and scrape method does result in the crispy skin looking more restaurant-style. Personally, I like the appearance of the bubbled, blistered skin; I think it looks cool and isn’t as wasteful as the scraping method.
My advice is to keep an eye on your roast pork once you’ve cooked it at least an hour, especially when you see that the skin has nearly blistered completely, and pull it out of the oven right when it starts to blacken at the edges. The meat inside should be cooked through, the usual light grey color of cooked pork, and very juicy and tender.
Apologies, I don’t have any pretty pictures of the sliced meat to show you. My family and I were too hungry and started eating before I remembered about taking photos.