Slow roasted pork belly with apples

Rich and unctuous, with a crispy crackling, pork belly is a spectacular dinner party dish and the pan fried apples and spiced sauce are wonderful partners. It’s important to cook the pork long and slow to help render out most of the fat, and end up with meltingly soft flesh. But then the last part of the cooking needs to be at high heat, to enable the skin to become crisp – the essence of great pork is the crackling!

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Serves 6

1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1.5 kg pork belly, skin on
1 bulb fresh fennel
3 carrots
6 granny smith apples
40 g butter
2 cinnamon quills
3 star anise
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup verjuice

Coarsely grind the spices and salt in a pestle and mortar. Score the skin of the pork at about 1 cm intervals, being careful to not cut into the flesh. Rub the spice mixture into the skin of the pork, and then set aside in the fridge, uncovered for about 3 hours. This will help to draw moisture out of the skin and help get a crispy crackling. Cut the fennel bulb into 1 cm thick slices and cut the carrots in half lengthwise. In a large heavy based roasting pan lay the fennel and the carrots across the base and then place the pork, skin side up onto the vegetables. Bake at 140 C for 2 hours. Turn the heat up to 220 C and roast for another 30 minutes until the skin is crispy. Take out of the oven and rest for about 15 minutes. While the pork is resting, peel and core the apples and then cut in half. Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat and add the butter. When it starts to foam add the apples, cinnamon and star anise and cook for 3 – 4 minutes. Add the brown sugar and verjuice and simmer until the apples are cooked, but not collapsing, and the sauce almost syrupy. Carve the pork and serve with the apples and a drizzle of the sauce.

Wine choice: A full bodied red wine is perfect with this dish. I’d suggest a shiraz, which has the depth and intensity to match the richness of the pork.

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