This is an update of my recipe for Roast Pork, a.k.a. sio bak.
Over time, with experience (which is a nice way of saying finding many ways how this will NOT work), I have found 2 ways to do this.
This is the more complicated way, but this is the (modified) original method I used. I think the crispiness is more authentic. And this version is simpler than my first attempt.
The Dry Rub
This refers to the dry “marinade” used to season the meat.
Black Pepper and White Pepper provides the spiciness. I used to also add Sze Chuan Pepper, for a three-pepper mix, but I have drop Sze Chuan pepper as I find it a little too acidic. Well, acidic enough for me to notice, and that it does not go well with the roast (I feel). I added it originally to give it more kick, but I don’t think the roast needs it. Two type of peppers should do. But if you like it a little tangy, try with sze chuan pepper.
And I add salt and sugar as well for the dry rub.
An optional ingredient is Chinese Five-Spice powder. But this can add bitterness if used excessively. It’s optional.
Actually, all the ingredients for the rub are optional. If you like the pure porky flavour (like a friend) just do without, or just use a simple seasoning of whatever you like. You make it the way YOU like it.
The rub is for the meat, so estimate how much surface you need to cover, and then mix as much as you think you need, then add 50% more. If you have too much dry rub, that’s a happy problem. If you have too little… you have to make do with what you have. Better to have and not need, than to need and not have.
But for those who have trouble estimating: two tablespoon of black pepper, two tablespoons of white pepper, half a tablespoon of salt, and two tablespoons of sugar. This SHOULD be enough for 600 to 1000 gm slab, but it depends on the cut. (A thick slab would be compact and have less surface to rub.)
Prepping the skin/seasoning the meat.
You need a good size slab of pork belly to make this. About 600gm (about 1.5 lb) is a good size to start with. But 1 kg (2.2 lb) is a good size to work with. 1.3 kg is about as big as my oven can handle unless I get a bigger oven.
The skin should be left on, and the first step is to score the skin.
Using a sharp knife, score the skin about 2 mm deep, and about 4 mm apart. Then do it again in perpendicular to the first cut. That is, get a cross hatch pattern on it. Like this:
Alternatively, use skewers to prick the skin all over.
You want to break the skin, but not cut into the meat. So score it, but not too deeply. But it is okay if you gash it now and again.
When the skin is scored, scald it with boiling water. This will cause the score marks to open up more prominently, but don’t worry if not all the score marks open up. It’s okay.
Then rub the spices (dry rub) onto the meat side (5 sides, excluding the skin side). Rub it into the nooks and crannies.
Then, leave the meat to season for a few hours or overnight, or get straight to the roasting.
The Salt Roasting
Pre-heat oven to 200 c.
Place the slab of pork skin side up on foil large enough to wrap up the sides of the meat and form a “wall” around the top. Wipe the skin as dry as you can.
Coat the skin with coarse salt, forming a thick layer of salt bordered by the foil. This is not a very good illustration, but it will have to do. I think I was running out of salt for this one. You should not be able to see the skin.
Then roast for about 30 minutes. The salt should pull out the moisture and dry the skin to better prepare it for crackling.
After 30 minutes, turn the temperature down to 150, and pull out the roast.
The salt should have form a crust and it should be fun and easy to pull off the salt. If you wish, you can discard the salt. But if you like you can save the clean, dry (no oil or liquid) salt for the next time you roast pork like this.
Remove the pork from the foil (carefully, there will be juices, but these are probably too salty for use and should be discarded (unless you have some use for very salty pork juices), wipe off excess salt and place on a rack in a roasting pan. Wipe the skin dry if necessary.
Put hot or boiling water into the roasting pan, but the meat should be on the rack above the water (i.e. don’t boil your roast).
Alternatively, put a pan of hot water in with the roast.
The Long Roast
Now you do a low-and-slow roast at 150 C for 2 to 3 hours.
Every hour (or more often), top up the hot water in the roasting pan. The Roasting pan is also collecting the juices, so you don’t want those to dry up or burn. Makes for a tough cleaning job, later. Of course, you can also line the roasting pan with foil.
After two hours, the aroma of roasting pork should fill your kitchen (and maybe irritate your Muslim neighbours). That means the meat is done, and all you want now is for the crackling.
If the skin has crackled nicely, it’s done and you should take the roast out.
If not, you can either a) wait patiently for another hour, or b) try to speed things up.
(b) it is!
Let’s get Crackling!
Turn the heat up to about 200C and check every 5 minutes. when part of the skin starts to crackle, check more frequently. If one part has crisped but the other side is still thinking about it, you can protect the crisp side from burning with small pieces of foil.
Commercial operations simply allow the crispy skin to burn and then scrape off the burnt bits. You can do that too.
Alternatively, if you go with (a) and keep the oven at 150, in the 3rd hour, the crackling may form nicely and evenly (hey! It worked once for me. It could work again!). Check at the 30 minute mark and then every 10 minutes. If you see crackling forming, check more frequently.
If you ever get to the point where you can set the time, leave it and come back to perfect crackling roast pork, you have mastered Roast Pork.
If after 3 hours, there is no crackling, then it’s time to speed things along (see above starting from “turn heat up to 200…”).
Cutting and Eating
Do not try to cut the pork immediately after roasting. Leave the roast to rest for about 30 minutes at least. This will allow the meat to pull itself together. Then when you start to cut/carve the roast, the skin won’t separate. Of course if ALL you want is the crispy skin…
The slow roasting should mean a really tender meat. If you don’t like it too tender, you can reduce the roasting to just 1 hour on low, and then raise to 200C.