Spicy pork belly

I come from an ancient family tradition in which we never ate pork. But when I became a man, I cooked like a man, and pork found a minor but significant role in my diet. Pork belly gets its best attention in the cooking of Asia, specifically the south-east. Here’s a delicious meal that will satisfy a hearty appetite – and, if you choose, set your tongue on fire.

To make ‘fire in the pork belly’ for six, you will need:

  • 1,5kg pork belly
  • 1,5l chicken stock
  • 60ml canola, sunflower or, best of all, peanut oil
  • 130ml dark, heavy soy sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic

For the spicy rub:

  • 1 teaspoon each of:fennel seeds, dhania (coriander) seeds, and black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 50g brown sugar30g coarse salt

We begin with the rub. The big deal here, as with home-made masala, is to toast the whole spices, fennel, dhania and black pepper. Do this over moderate heat in a dry, clean frying pan for two minutes, shaking the pan from time to time. Let the spices cool, then reduce them to powder in a dedicated spice grinder, or with a mortar and pestle if Eskom is having the day off. Mix the freshly ground spices in a bowl with the sugar, salt and cayenne pepper.

Lay the pork belly on the work surface and lightly score the skin of the belly into large diamond shapes with the sharp point of a paring knife. Take care not to cut through into the meat. Using your well-washed hands, rub the spice mix all over the pork belly and well into the lightly scored grooves. If there’s time, refrigerate overnight in a Ziploc bag.

Select a large saucepan, big enough for the spiced-up pork belly and 1,5l of chicken stock. Home-made chicken stock is a cooking staple; your freezer should be full of it. If not, the fallback is to use the best industrially- made stock cubes or stock powder you can find. Do not stint; this is not a good way to save money. Add the crushed, peeled garlic cloves and the ultra-dark soy sauce and allow to simmer.

Rev up a large frying pan or roasting dish to high heat. Pour in the oil of your choice and sear the pork belly, starting with the fat side. The fat will begin to render immediately; pour off the excess if it gets deeper than 6mm. Rotate until the meat is a uniform golden brown.

Preheat the oven to 160° C. When the pork belly is golden brown all over, transfer it to a large ovenproof casserole or
cast- iron pot. Pour in sufficient heated stock to submerge the meat, and cover the pot with a double layer of heavy duty aluminium foil. Stick this into the oven and let it cook for about three hours, then check. Don’t let it shrink too much or lose most of its fat, as this is a significant part of the taste experience.

When done, remove from the stock, carve, and serve with rice or mashed potato, using the cooking liquid as a sauce. A final production note: if you don’t care for chilli-type heat, leave the cayenne pepper out of the mix.