Pork Belly, Chinese flavour is a simple dish, good value and slow cooked. This is not a Chinese recipe, though, but there are some Chinese flavours that compliment this dish, like star anise.
If you live in Dublin, you’ll be used to the taste of pork. I’m sure that at one time in Dublin there were more pork butchers than general victuallers. Most of those old pork butchers are concentrated in working class areas in the city, a reflection of pork’s place in the class structure.
In my neighbourhood, Dublin’s Liberties, there are, at least, four butcher shops within a two minute walk from my home. And the good thing about them is nothing goes to waste.
The Liberties, as the area is known, is a working class enclave in the centre of the city. It takes its name from the old manorial jurisdictions granted to neighbouring townlands of the city of Dublin from the 12th century. The liberties were granted, under license, to the landowners of the manorial districts and they, in turn, undertook the responsibility of administering these districts and provided such essential services as water, lighting, sewage and quite often, a police and judicial service. Liberties granted tyo these districts included tax free status and even the right to collect taxes in their own districts.
Through the centuries, these districts became the hub of local trade and industry. For example, in the 17th century a huge area of The Liberties was populated by French Hugeunots , escaping French religious persecution. They established The Liberties as the hub of a weaving industry that carried on up to the 19th century.
The Liberties also had abattoirs, distilleries and breweries, the most famous of the latter is, of course, Guinness of James’s Gate. When I first lived in The Liberties, beside Weaver Square in the Hugeunot Tenters’ district, in the 1970s, the two most distinctive odours in the neighbourhood were the smell of cooking hops and curing pork.
Pork was cheap and, for that reason, popular. In the 19th century many families kept pigs and chickens in their own yards and laneways, neighbourhood slaughterhouses flourished. One of the most popular dishes, associated with The Liberties, in particular, was Coddle, a stew of potatoes, onions, pork sausage and chunks of off cut, cured ham. But that’s for another blog.
Pork belly is a long neglected dish in fine cooking that in recent years has enjoyed a resurgence and even, elevation, to haute cuisine. I call my recipe, Chinese flavoured because while I cooked it in a fashion I’ve known since my childhood days, I added a few spices, like star anise, to give it a little more zing.
- one pork belly
- two sticks of celery
- one onion
- two star anise
- two cloves of garlic
- two green cardomoms
- one tsp fennel seeds
- one pint of chicken stock
Score the pork belly skin, diagonally, with the tip of a sharp knife. Turn 180∘ and score again, diagonally, until you have a diamond pattern of scores, exposing the fat. Rub coarse sea salt, liberally, into the skin.
Heat oven to 180∘.
Heat an oven dish on the top of the stove and add a tblspn of olive or vegetable oil. Add the onion, finely sliced and the celery, chopped and sweat gently. add the garlic, chopped. Smash the star anise and cardomoms and add them to the sweating vegetables.
Place the pork belly in the hot pan, skin down, to give it some colour and seal in the salt.
Add the fennel seeds to the sweating mixture and then place the pork belly in the pan, skin side up. add the chicken stock up to the level of the skin but not covering it. Bring this mixture to the boil before placing it in the hot oven. Allow to slow cook for 2.5 to 3 hours.
Remove the pork belly and set aside to rest.
Drain the fat from the top of the reduced mixture in the pot and place, once more, on a, heated, stove ring. Add a spoon of Dijon mustard and stir to integrate, while the sauce reduces some more.
Slice the pork, preferably with a serrated edge knife, before serving, with the sauce.