Have you ever been to your Chinatown? In every Chinatown in every country there will be at the least one place, if not more, that has some dead-looking animals and animal pieces hanging in the windows. Those places are selling barbecued meat. The typical items would be barbecued pork, or red strips of meat called Char Su in Chinese, or roast duck, roasted chicken, and roasted pork, aka crispy pork.
Roast pork or crispy pork is the pork belly with the skin on, but the skin is so crispy, it fluffs up just like a Mexican Chicharrón.
The pork is usually salty, and of course crispy on the skin part, and tender all the way through. The flavors are varied based on each vendor’s recipe; some use Chinese five spices, some don’t, some use Chinese wine and some don’t, but most common ingredients are salt and vinegar.
Thai people use this crispy pork to cook many dishes. The next dish I will be blogging about after this uses crispy pork, so I’m giving you the recipe for it now.
Crispy pork is not difficult, but it is tricky. I have my easy, foolproof way of doing it, but that takes some planning and the result won’t last more than 12 hours. The crispy pork I make using the “easy short cut” has to be finished that evening or else it will become soggy because instead of baking or barbecuing, I fry it.
The real crispy pork in Chinatown usually was made by baking. You would think it’s impossible, but it’s not. If you bake it long enough and with high enough temperature, you will get the skin to crackle. Some people boil it first then bake it, and some people will bake it all the way through.
I did try most of the methods. I could tell you the pro and cons of them, but I will just give you my easy recipe.
Baking – Baking method
You rub the salt, pepper and the spices, if used (I prefer only pepper but a lot of people love to add the Chinese five spices powder to the mix too), to the meat part and leave the skin part alone, but later you prick the skin throughly and add the salt on the skin at the end.
Bake at 350F for half an hour before you start piercing the skin because the raw skin would be too tough to pierce through. Then you bake it again at 350F for another half an hour, let the oil drip a little more and make the flesh tender. After that half an hour you pull the pork belly out and prick the skin even more.
Then you put some salt on top of the skin and put it back in the oven and raise the temperature to 425F and bake for another 30 minutes. You will start seeing the skin crackle on the side. After 30 minutes, move the rack up higher and broil it for 5 minutes or less, letting the skin crackle until it’s all “fluffy”. Be careful, you might burn it. (Like I did!)
I usually stop at this point because I’ve nearly burned it already, but other people will drop the temperature down to 400F and lower the rack down and let the pork belly crackle a little more.
If you bake it all the way through from the beginning, you have to marinate the pork belly overnight because the flavors wouldn’t get into the meat in just the three hours of baking.
This is the method that makes the pork belly crispy the longest. It could stay crispy up to 36 hours, from my experience. I think this is the most popular method and probably the method that most Chinese restaurants use, but they probably use a charcoal oven instead of a home oven.
Boiling – Baking method
You don’t need to marinate the pork belly. You boil it in water with vinegar and salt for 40 minutes until it’s tender. Then you start piercing the skin and then rub the dry salt and spices all over the piece. Then you put it in the oven at 250F for half an hour to dry the pork belly. You can take it out and pierce the skin some more after the first half hour (I did) then put it back in and start baking at 400F for half an hour.
Then you increase the oven temperature to 425F for another 10-15 minutes, and then 450F on the higher rack for another 5-10 minutes. It should crackle at 425F and if it doesn’t, at 450F it should. If it doesn’t crackle all over the skin by the time you finish the 10 minutes, you can keep broiling for another few minutes.
This method is good, but you have to bake to eliminate the water from the skin for it to crackle. If you haven’t completely eliminated the moisture, it might not crackle all the way. The middle part might have some spots or strips that weren’t crackled.
The meat part will be tender juicy and tasty but not too salty. Also, the end product won’t last as long as the first method. It will only last about 24 hours at the most.
Boiling – Frying method
This is one of my easy methods. I boil the pork belly in water mixed with vinegar and salt for 20-45 minutes. Then pricking the skin or not isn’t that critical for this method, but what critical is to leave the piece of the pork belly to dry completely.
I am in California, so I just leave the piece of pork belly out uncovered on the kitchen counter. You can’t do this if you have a nasty dog or cat who love to steal food from the counter. You have to find other way to dry it; leaving it in the oven or refrigerator is okay, too. You need to leave it overnight for it to completely dry.
Then you fry it in oil—very, very hot oil—over 400F or higher. You can tell because the oil will be starting to smoke. You drop the pork belly in, skin-side down first. Then flip it so the oil cooks the other side.
This method is pretty simple, but the drawback is that you won’t get the crispy pork the same day. The flavor would be quite mild as well, too ,even thought the meat will be very tender. You need to plan ahead if you want pork belly this way.
With this method the product would stay crispy much less, about 8 hours maximum.
Baking – Frying method:
This is the method that I’m going to do this time. It’s not the best, but it is foolproof. You need some time to plan ahead, but you won’t burn it or have the hard skin that won’t crackle. (Usually you can’t chew on that part. It’s pretty much ruined.)
Pork belly with skin on, 300g, or about 2/3 lb. (You can get this at the Asian market)
Vinegar 2 tablespoons
Rum or Chinese Cooking wine 1 tablespoon
Salt 2 teaspoons
White pepper 1 teaspoon
(Optional) Sugar 1 teaspoon (be very careful and do not let this go on the skin side)
(Optional) Chinese five spices
Oil for frying 1-1/2 cups
1) Mix all the ingredients, except the pork belly and the oil, of course.
2) Brush the liquid on the piece of pork belly, the meat side.
3) Wrap the pork belly in cellophane, or put it in a container and marinate it for at least 3 hours. If you prick the meat side before marinating, you can leave it for only an hour and a half, but longer is always better.
4) Once you are done with the marinade, take the pork belly out and put it in the oven, skin side up. Turn the oven on at 350F and leave it in there for 45 minutes.
5) Take the pork belly out and pierce the skin all over, making as many holes as possible. I use these tools, but you can use fork if you don’t have them.
6) Put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes.
7) Take it out, use a paper towel to dab the excess oil off, and leave it on the rack uncovered overnight to dry.
8) The next day, put oil in the wok and heat it up using the highest heat that your stove can generate. Wait for the oil to give some smoke.
9) Put the pork belly in the oil skin-side down first, wait until the skin crackles, then flip it to the meat side down. While you are frying the meat side, keep tossing hot oil over the skin part with a spatula (Please use a silicone spatula). Fry until both sides are slightly brown.
You are done.