Cooking Heston’s Brined Slow Roast Pork Belly Recipe from Heston At Home
Who doesn’t love pork belly? Apart from vegetarians, of course. It’s a cut with appeal that spans continents: my Chinese mother-in-law makes a brilliant version, full of mysterious Asian herbs.
When fellow Hestonthusiast Andy & I got our copies of Heston at Home this was one of the first significant dishes we both wanted to try. Bound to be a crowd pleaser. After all, apart from vegetarians, who doesn’t love pork belly? OK, people who can’t eat it for religious reasons I guess, but anyway…
Don’t let the half-page of text in the book deceive you. This is a pretty detailed three-day recipe with multiple cooking stages.
For Sunday lunch (for which this is ideal) you’re best off starting Friday night.
Recipe: Brasied Pork Belly with Crackling (from Heston at Home)
Special Equipment: Oven thermometer, muslin
Special Ingredients: None
Time: 3 days
Cost: £15 – £30 (depending on how well your cupboards & herb garden are stocked)
STEP 1: Making the Brine
The brine is made with a frankly alarming 250g of salt in just 1000ml of water. Yep, we had to read that twice to be certain as well.
Before adding the spices (including cloves and a lot of coriander) you’re advised to toast them in the oven for 10 minutes. Minor additions like this really drag out the prep for this recipe.
Added to this is a wide-ranging list of zests, herbs and spices, tied up in a muslin bag. I’ve always thought of brining as an optional stage, here it seems to be the most crucial part of the recipe.
After boiling them all those dark spices make the brine, like Lieutenant George’s deceased friend, Strangely Brown. It will take a long time to cool.
STEP 2: Preparing the Pork
Did you get your butcher to remove the skin from the belly for you? I certainly didn’t! My supermarket joint was ”butchered” more in the Jack-the-Ripper sense of the word. Please don’t leave too many cruel jibes in the comments section.
With the brine being nearly as salty as the Dead Sea the pork belly joint actually has a tendency to float when you try & submerge it. You’re best off weighing it down to ensure it’s fully covered. Then into the fridge for 6 hours, best done overnight or through the day Saturday (depending on when on Sunday you plan to serve it).
NOTE: After brining rinse this in the biggest vessel you can lay your hands on. And change the water regularly. The more water you put the joint in, the more salt you’ll take out of the meat. This is vital if you want to taste more than just salt when you finally get to eat. Add another hour or two for this step.
STEP 3: Cooking the Pork, Part 1
It is essential you use a thermometer to make sure your oven really is at 80°C. There’s a similar recipe on the Waitrose website (clocking in at a mere 9 hours) with a comments section full of unfortunate souls who opened up their casserole pots to find a collection of raw meat & vegetables within.
Just 18 hours after it went in the oven (yes, EIGHTEEN) your pork will be cooked. The picture shows a cross section. Obviously you might feel a bit miffed that after all that time it still looks raw. But, no, that’s the result of the low-and-slow cooking process.
You might notice that our belly joint has buckled in the middle, performing its own culinary yogic bridge pose. I put that down to a slightly high 85°C, the only stable temperature we could get our fan oven to. If you can weigh the joint down with a plate or bowl then do so.
It’s really worth stating that you absolutely CANNOT use cubes or concentrate for the stock to cook the pork in. This needs to be reduced afterwards, and the high salt content of those products will make the gravy inedible. Unless you’d prefer Onion Bisto, which we were forced to use after making this exact mistake.
Did you remember to put the pork skin in the oven 5 hours earlier as well? Thanks to my butchery handiwork it came out with the delightful appearance of the Evil Dead necronomicon.
STEP 4: Finishing the Pork
This is a bloody awkward four-part affair.
First you need to reheat the pork (which, given the stop / start nature of the recipe is bound to be lower than serving temperature by the time you’ve got your side dishes together). This is done in a shallow bath of stock (well-diluted concentrate would be fine for this stage). You can’t submerge the layer of fat, or it won’t crisp up properly.
While that’s happening you ought to be reducing the now amazingly flavoursome cooking stock down into a thick gravy.
Once the belly is warm it needs flipping into a pan of shallow oil to get the fat nice and crispy. Trim the edges and it’ll almost look like the precision crafted photo in the book.
Finally, the Book-of-the-Dead skin can be made into crackling by popping it into a very high oven for a few minutes. Heed our advice: this needs to be done at the very last minute so it gets served hot and shattering, not lukewarm and rock solid.
Most of Heston’s recipes are so demanding that they’re really only appropriate for Sunday Dinner. This slow-cooked pork belly more than most. It requires Perfection-recipe levels of attention to get right, and –despite the long periods when it’s left alone- will soak up much of your free time the weekend you cook it.
That said, the results are fantastic. Tender, with subtle flavours imparted by the brine. We’d advocate making triple the amount of that brine and storing leftovers. Better yet, do 3 belly joints and, after rinsing, freeze two of them for a later date.
For a super short cut you could just add an un-brined belly all the brine spices to a slow cooker and make a separate gravy.
We served this with Heston’s Lemon Tart recipe, also a very demanding affair that commandeers your oven for a good hour or two. Unless you have two ovens available (our top section is just a grill) you’d need to work on the lemon tart during the brining phase. Say goodbye to your remaining weekend!
But, Heston’s slow cooked pork belly really was delicious. If you like his cooking it’s worth making it at least once.
Aside from vegetarians, and a vast chunk of the Middle East, and anyone who values their weekend, who isn’t going to love this recipe.
Reluctant Housedad – a very well documented breakdown of this recipe (and full cooking instructions) from a professional writer, avid cook and sous vide enthusiast.