Here we go! My results with this slab of pork belly were crispy without being too hard (to cut or to eat), so I'm comfortable sharing my approach now. (The black bits are charred bits of the flavoring rub I applied and not burnt belly.)
The last breakthrough was in a skin piercing technique I picked up from a duck recipe, actually (I'll blog about the duck next). I pierced the pork belly skin a lot more than is shown in the duck video. You need to pierce the skin a lot in order to let the fat escape as it cooks, allowing the skin to become crisp as the oil renders out, but you don't want to poke through to the flesh, as then moisture will come into the skin, preventing it from crisping up.
As I mentioned in my post on getting crispy skin on a pork shoulder roast, salting the skin to draw out moisture is another important step. Another thing is allowing the skin to dry, which letting your roast sit in its salt rub in the refrigerator is great for.
Here's a good post over at Serious Eats' Food Lab on what goes on with pork skin in getting crispy. Interestingly, Lopez-Alt doesn't call for any scoring, piercing, or separating of the skin in his pork shoulder recipe. However, his recipe for crisp pork shoulder takes 8 hours of slow roasting before a final burst of heat. I'd be curious to know more definitively about whether the skin piercing is really helpful/necessary or if it allows things to happen in a shorter time frame. In any case, it seems to have an effect just anecdotally at least.
So--this happened. A slice of crispy skinned pork belly with duck fat sautéed cabbage and sriracha sauce on a corn tortilla. Mmmm...
Here's my recipe for the crispy pork belly. Feel free to get creative with what else you add to the salt in your dry rub. With this go-round, my rub was paprika, ancho chili powder, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and a bit of brown sugar.
Crispy Roast Pork Belly
~2 lbs. pork belly
coarse kosher or sea salt
ground black pepper
peanut or vegetable oil
- Use a paring knife to pierce the skin all over without cutting into the meat. Do this by holding the knife almost parallel to the skin (flat side facing the skin so the planes of the blade and skin are nearly parallel) and pushing the blade into the skin in a motion that’s almost parallel to the skin. (see this video)
- Lightly salt skin to taste (about 1/2 tsp per pound of pork*), making sure to rub the salt into the cuts.
- Salt and pepper the meat portions to taste (salt on the meat portions is in addition to the 1/2 tsp per pound of pork that just goes on the skin).
- Set pork skin side up in a flat-bottomed dish and put in refrigerator until the skin dries out, or overnight.
- Remove pork from refrigerator and leave on counter at room temperature for 15-30 minutes to allow surface to warm up. Pre-heat oven, with a baking pan inside, to 500°F or as high as your oven goes.
- Once the oven is at temperature, remove the pan and put pork belly in skin side down. Roast pork for 15 minutes at this high temperature.
- Remove pork from oven and flip skin side up. Turn oven down to 350°F and return pork to oven to roast for 1 hour.
- After 1 hour, add a little water to the pan (to keep the fat from smoking during this last step) and turn oven back up to highest setting and roast for 10 more minutes. The skin should blister as it crisps up if it hasn't already.
- Remove pork from oven, slice, and serve.
Optional Accompaniments for the Pork
- Balsamic onion marmalade
- Ground white and black pepper mix
- Hoisin sauce
- Sriracha and soy paste or hoisin mix
It's best served immediately, but leftovers are great, too. Interestingly, the skin was still crisp even after resting and refrigerating in a tupperware container, unlike poultry skin which gets soggy as it rests as the moisture escapes from the meat. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe because with a slab of pork belly, steam can escape to the sides, while with a whole bird roast the only path of escape is through skin.