Monday, 24 November 2008

Confit Pork Belly

This recipe requires a bit of dedication and planning but will reward you with belly pork perfection - tender, moist, flesh with uniformly perfect crackling.

The word "confit" means preserved (as in "confiture") and involves slow-cooking the subject of the meal in duck fat. Only the French could invent something so ridiculously unhealthy! Now you will need quite a lot of fat, so plan to have several roast ducks or geese in the run-up to your confit or alternatively secure your fat from elsewhere.

The fat for this confit comprised:

1. a jar of goose fat from the supermarket
2. the strained and reserved fat from roasting a duck (and some duck legs)
3. a glug of olive oil (because I was short for my first confit)
4. a large tub of beef dripping

The above amounts to about about a litre and a quarter which is enough to confit a 4 portion chunk of belly pork.


For the confit:

a large piece of pork belly - boned and trimmed of gristle
lots of animal fat (see above)
1 bay leaf
1 star anise
a sprig of rosemary

For the salting mixture:

a bay leaf per portion
1 star anise
a sprig of rosemary
1 clove of garlic per portion
5 peppercorns per portion
60g rock salt per portion

Step 1 - Salting

Roughly chop the bay, rosemary and garlic and mix with the salt. Lightly crush the peppercorns and add the crushed peppercorns to the salt mixture.

Smear the salt mixture all over the pork. Cover the pork and leave in the fridge for 24 hours or at least overnight. If you get a chance at any point in the day, rub the mixture into the pork to make sure it has an even covering.

Step 2 - The confit

Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees C.

Remove the pork from the fridge and transfer it to an ovenproof dish which fits the cut of pork as tightly as possible. The tighter the fit, the less fat you will need to cover the pork. Melt the fat in a saucepan and pour over the pork until it is covered. Tuck in a whole bay leaf, a sprig of rosemary and a star anise.

Cover the pork (with a lid or else tin foil) and transfer to the oven. Leave it simmering slowly in the oven for about 4 hours. Check the pork while it is cooking and if any part is sticking out, turn it over to ensure even, moist cooking. You might also want to turn down the oven if it is boiling too rapidly.

Remove from the oven and leave the meat to cool in its oil. The meat should not cool completely. See step 3.

Step 3 - Pressing

In order to ensure that the portions are neat and perfectly flat, you now need to set your portions in a press. Before the fat sets, remove the pork from the fat and wrap it loosely in cling film. Place the pork skin-side down on a flat surface and place a flat board on top of it so that the pork belly is pressed as flat as possible.

Place a heavy weight on the top board. A case of wine perhaps? Leave like this overnight. The pork skin should set perfectly flat. This will allow you to pan-fry the skin and get wonderful crackling. Once removed from the weights, the pork is now cooked and semi-cured so should keep in the fridge for at least a week.

Step 4 - Final cooking

Take the pork and cut into neat square portions. Score the rind in whichever way you want (I go for inch cubes). Take a heavy-bottomed oven-safe frying pan which is large enough to contain all of the belly portions. Get the pan hot and place the portions skin side down in the pan. Fry over a medium heat until the skin is crisp and golden.

Transfer the pan to a hot oven for 6-8 minutes with the pork remaining skin side down.


When you turn the belly portions out of the pan, the crackling should be perfectly crispy. Place them on a mound of mash and serve with braised red cabbage and apple sauce. Oh, and please have a glass of wine at this point, you have earned it!

The confit fat can be strained, kept and re-used a number of times. Hugh Fearnley-Whojimaflip says you can use it 3 times before it becomes too salty. I have done 2 confits, duck and pork belly. What on earth shall I do next?

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