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Potluck Staples 1: Crispy, juicy, roast pork!

Like the genius that I am, I decided it would be a good idea to schedule a potluck lunch at work one business day before going on leave. You know, while I was busy handing over my work and trying to get last minute errands done before Mexico.

No matter how busy, lazy or broke I am at the time of a looming potluck, I can never bring myself to show up with frozen sausage rolls, store bought food or even a lazy cake – like it’s some sort of cardinal sin for me to contribute those things. Luckily, I have a little repertoire of easy go-to dishes up my sleeve that are delicious crowd-pleasers, but that I can whip up fairly quickly in my sleep. They’re like wardrobe basics, or dressing to a formula on a morning when you just can’t be bothered but still want to look presentable.

Siew yoke (crispy roast pork)

One thing that I’ll often make is my take on Chinese crispy roast pork, or “siew yoke” – it’s hugely popular with omnivore friends and acquaintances from all walks of life and I always get asked for the recipe!

Siew yoke (crispy roast pork)

I still never know what to do when this happens – see, I don’t write, use or keep recipes. I can explain what goes in a dish in terms of ingredients, but for the rest of it – from quantity to preparation steps to cooking time – I just go by instinct, common sense and experience. There are lots of factors you can only consider at the time of cooking (which is why many inexperienced cooks follow recipes to the letter but still have disasters), and I feel like it’s a huge hassle to have to jot all that detail down.

In the end, I decided to write up my siew yoke recipe – my first written recipe ever – figuring it couldn’t be that hard. It’s just roast pork! Ha! So here it is – not as simple as I’d like, and you’ll have to forgive the guesswork vagueness of the quantities as I never measure anything and add stuff in more than one go.

This is the first of two posts based on two dishes I had to conjure up for this recent potluck – the next will focus on Taiwanese stewed beef noodle soup.

Indie’s Crispy Siew Yoke

Things to note
The key to great, crispy, crackling is the complete absence of moisture in the pork skin before cooking. In this recipe, we do a few things to ensure we dry out the skin as much as possible.

When choosing your pork, buy free range at your local farmer’s market. Try and find one which is neatly trimmed and cleaned (some butchers do a lazy job of trimming hairs etc.) and very close to the same thickness all the way through the cut of belly.

Prep time: About 20-30 minutes, unconsecutive. Cooking time: About an hour
The cooking times and temperatures in this recipe are all based on a 1 kg piece of pork (give or take about 100g).

What you’ll need

  • 1 kg free range pork belly
  • Chilli bean sauce (in a jar from most Chinese/Asian grocers)
  • Red fermented bean curd (in a jar from most Chinese/Asian grocers – sounds odd to the uninitiated, but this is essential!)
  • Chinese five spice powder
  • Rock salt
  • White pepper
  • Garlic – minced
  • Brown sugar
  • Premium soy sauce
  • Sesame oil
Left to right: soy sauce, rock salt, five spice powder, red fermented bean curd, chilli bean sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil

Left to right: soy sauce, rock salt, five spice powder, red fermented bean curd, chilli bean sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil

Prepare the marinade

Mash up 4-5 pieces of the fermented bean curd
Mix with about:
   2 tablespoons of the chilli bean paste
   About 2 tablespoon of soy sauce
   Plenty of minced garlic to taste
   2-3 tsp of brown sugar, melted
   Good sprinkle of salt
   Five spice powder – depends on how much you like it, but you don’t need very much
   About 2 tsp of sesame oil
Mix well!

Crushing the fermented bean curd

Crushing the fermented bean curd

Now, the Pork!

  1. Clean the pork, trim any excess hairs and make sure the skin very dry
  2. Pour the marinade into a dish big enough for the pork and deep enough that it goes at least 2/3 up the height of the meat while lying flat
  3. Put the pork into the dish, meat side down so that it’s in the marinade – make sure skin side is up and does not touch the liquid at all!
  4. Brush or rub marinade on the sides of the pork that are not already covered by marinade (again, being careful with not touching the skin on top).
  5. Score the skin of the meat with a sharp knife – vertical scores about 2-3cm apart. Make sure not to cut too deep.
  6. Cover the skin with salt – lots of it! This is to bring out all the moisture in the skin so that it “crackles” well!
  7. After 20 minutes, you’ll find that the skin has “sweated”. Rub off this moisture with a paper towel (pat dry), add more salt, repeating this process about 3 times
  8. Meanwhile, marinate for at least 2 hours, leaving it in the refrigerator. I find it better if it’s 4-5 hours. Longer than this and the acids in the marinade can start to “cook” the outermost layer of meat, making the bottom couple of millimetres quite tough
  9. If you have time to marinate for 4 hours or more, leave the pork in the fridge uncovered to further dry out the skin.
  10. If the skin hasn’t had sufficient time to dry out before cooking, GET OUT YOUR HAIRDRYER! That’s right: hairdryer. You’re going to be a piggy stylist. I would probably do this step regardless. Blow dry the pork skin for approximately 15 mins on LOW HEAT or cold setting. Make sure it’s not too warm, or it’ll start to cook the meat!
  11. Preheat the oven to 190°C (if you have an old oven with bad heat circulation, you might want to try 200).
  12. Repeat the salting/sweating/drying process from steps 6-7 one more time.
  13. Sprinkle a bit of Five Spice powder all over the skin, just a little bit, but spread evenly all over. Cover with a thin but even layer of salt.
  14. Wipe/clean the marinade off the pork meat, making sure it’s dry
  15. Place the pork directly on an oven rack, so that the juices will drip through it. Put a roasting dish or whatever on the rack underneath to catch the juices. You can make other things, like gravy, with this afterwards.
  16. Roast on 190°C for 10 mins on fan
  17. Turn the heat down to 180°C and roast for a further 20 mins.
  18. Wipe off any excess salt and moisture (if any) from the skin. Turn the oven setting to “Grill” (or “Broil”, if you’re in America). Grill for 22 minutes. The reason for this is that the grill setting focuses on heat from above, which is what is going to make that crackling crackle!
  19. Turn the oven setting to “Fan Grill” (or grill or broil if your oven doesn’t have that setting) and the temperature up to 200 and grill for 3 minutes. If you don’t have fan grill, leave it on “grill” but turn the heat up to 220 for these last 3 minutes. This will direct heat from the top of the oven straight onto the skin of the pork, helping it blister and finishing off the crackling nicely.
  20. Remove from oven rack and place on a large wooden chopping board. Allow the pork and juices to rest for about 10 minutes.
  21. Slice pork along the vertical scoring, and then again horizontally along the same intervals so that from a birds-eye view it looks like 3cm square pieces, as per the second photo above and the one below.
  22. Serve! Gobble!
Slice the pork so that the crackling layer is in 3 cm squares

Slice the pork so that the crackling layer is in 3 cm squares

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