This is soooooo good. I’m finding it hard to come up with words to describe how good this is. Crispy, salty skin, succulent, tender meat coupled with melt in your mouth tart apples, crunchy fennel and luscious butternut squash. I went to sleep thinking about how good this was.
WOW and WOW again. This meal was superb. I need to thank Alice Lau, Girl in a Food Frenzy for this recipe. If you haven’t checked out her blog, you owe it to yourself to do so. I like Alice’s blog and read it regularly. She is in culinary school “down under” and does some marvelous dishes. This past week she did a post “Snap, Crackle & Pop part II” in which she strutted her stuff on a a beautifully slow braised pork belly with crispy cracklings, apples and fennel. I looked at her photos and began to drool (I wish my photos were as good). Her technique was impeccable and the results were incredible, not to mention the flavor combination. Now, I love apples and fennel. They go together incredibly well. I also love pork and crispy skin. In fact, when we go to El Paso to visit Baby Lady’s family, we go to a supermarket called Ranch Mart because they deep fry pork skins, chicharones, (large pieces like 24 inches by 12 inches) right in front of you. Some of the pieces have chunks of meat attached; whereas, others are simply skin. It’s just wonderful! So when I saw Alice’s dish it had my name all over it and I had to make it so I did with just a little tweaking. Here is what we did.
- 1 pork belly, roughly 2.4 lbs
- 4 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and quartered
- 2 bulbs fennel, halved and cut into 3 pieces per half
- 2 white onions, large slice
- 1 butternut squash, large cube
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2-1/2 Tbsp salt
- 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Dry the pork belly and cut diagonal squares into the skin deep enough to go to the fat but not so deep as to cut the meat.
Take 2 Tbsp sea salt and rub all over the skin being sure to get it in between the grooves. Turn over and season the bottom with the remaining 1/2 tsp salt and fresh ground pepper. Let sit for 30 – 45 minutes to let the salt work its magic.
After 30 – 45 minutes, in a large heavy bottom pan, pour in 2 Tbsp olive oil and over medium-high heat, heat the oil until you can place a wooden spoon into the oil and while pressing down it begins to bubble. Once this occurs, add the pork belly skin side down.
Frying the pork belly skin side down accomplishes a couple of things. First, it renders some of the fat from the pork belly. Second, it helps crisp up the skin. Fry the pork belly for 15 minutes until it turns a golden brown. Just make sure you don’t get caught up in another pressing matter (like I did) because it scorched a small section. I hate it when that happens! It didn’t affect the taste but it definitely affected its appearance.
While the pork is frying, add the apples, onions and fennel to a roasting pan. Squeeze the lemon over them and stir to incorporate all of the flavors. When the pork is finished frying, place it in the roasting pan on top of the apples and fennel.
Place the roast in a 325 F preheated oven and ignore for 45 minutes. Depending upon your oven and the shape of the pork belly you may need to rotate the pork belly to ensure even cooking. A convection oven really helps with this dish.
After 45 minutes, rotate the pork belly and gently toss the vegetables. You should notice some of the rendered fat and juices in the bottom. Use these juices to baste the vegetables, NOT the pork belly.
Return to the 325 F oven for another 35 minutes peeking every now and then to baste the veggies and rotate the pork belly as needed.
After 35 minutes, remove the pork belly from the oven. By now you should notice the apples are beginning to break down. Pour the apples and fennel into a 4 qt dutch oven with the braising liquid, cover and set aside in a warm place for 30 minutes.
Add the diced butternut squash to the roasting pan and place the pork belly on top of it. Return the pork belly to the oven and turn the oven up to its highest setting, 450 – 475 F. As Alice points out, you need this high heat to squeeze out any remaining water in the skin so it forms perfect cracklins. It will also roast the butternut squash without overcooking it and produce a beautifully sweet, earthy treat that will go with the apples and fennel like you won’t believe.
At the end of 30 minutes, turn off the oven. Place the dutch oven with the apples and fennel in the oven along with the roasting pan. This will keep the apples and fennel hot while allowing time for the pork belly to rest.
At the end of 30 minutes, remove the pork belly from the oven. It will have a beautiful, deep golden brown color and the diagonal squares will have puffed up. Add the apples and fennel back to the pan and toss with the roasted butternut squash.
Turn the pork belly over, skin side down, and carve. If you try to carve the pork belly through the cracklins, you will find it pulls off the meat.
Place a spoonful of the apples, fennel and butternut squash on a plate. Top with slices of pork belly. Serve and enjoy!