Siobak, or Chinese roast pork, is an artform. All over the internet, people share their best tips and tricks for the crispiest yet juiciest roast pork belly. Some bury the pork rind in a salt crust to crisp the skin. Others advocate blanching then stabbing the pork rind with a sharp implement. Some Asian chefs have also taken inspiration from the French, and confit their pork belly slowly in oil before blasting the rind over high heat to blister the skin.
I have had my own share of disappointments and setbacks to perfect my own method for roast pork belly. But here are some tips that I have learnt along the way:
Roast the pork belly over a tray of water.
This is important because this it creates a steamy environment for the pork belly to roast in. Without the steam, the flesh of the pork belly would dry out by the time the meat fully tenderizes and skin crisps. You also want the water to catch any drippings and rendered fat, which would otherwise spit and burn. At the end of the roasting, you will not only be rewarded with a gorgeous hunk of roast pork belly. When you chill the liquid in the pan, you essentially get a layer of fat on top; use this instead of oil. The liquid below is as flavourful as pork stock, a wonderful thing to have around.
Low and slow.
Pork belly is a tough cut of pork that requires low-and-slow cooking. Over a period of slow-roasting, the tough muscle breaks down and tenderizes. It isn’t just the flesh of the pork belly that needs time to break down; pork skin is made up of tough connective tissue, which needs sufficient time to break down slowly. This is why, when you roast pork belly quickly over high heat, you get chewy leather-like pork rind. Pork rind is high in water content; the slow process of cooking gently reduces its moisture, allowing it to eventually get crisp.
Finish the roast with a blast of high heat.
A finish blast of heat blisters the skin of the pork belly. The blisters can look quite rude, and, in my husband’s words, cancerous. But, it is the high surface area of the bubbles and blisters that creates more crunch.
Make at least 1.5kg of pork belly.
With a tiny piece of meat, it is impossible to get tender meat and crunchy crackling. Also, though this recipe requires minimal effort, it requires a lot of time. You might as well make a larger batch. Gather friends for a meal! Or do as I do and chill or freeze leftovers. Leftover pork belly is stupendously good braised. The porosity of the crackling is perfect for soaking up flavours like a sponge, and the roast pork flavour is heaven.
1.5kg pork belly
1 teaspoon oil
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 160C. Sit the pork belly on a wire rack, set over a tray. Pat the pork dry with paper towels, making sure that the rind is dry.
Rub the pork skin with oil and season the skin with salt.
Place the tray with the pork in the oven and fill the tray with water.
Roast for 4 hours or until the pork skin feels dry and crisp. The pork skin should not take on too much colour. If it does, turn your oven down to 140-150C halfway through the roasting.
Increase your oven temperature to the maximum or 240C. Roast till the skin blisters. This should only take a few minutes so do not walk away.
Allow to rest for 15 minutes at least before slicing with a serrated knife.
Serve! Save any leftovers, chilled or frozen, for braising.