Cured pork products like speck, bacon, and pancetta provide flavour and seasoning to any dish they’re added to, be it carbonara, or a regal serving of Curtis Stone’s roast pork with Thai chilli mustard sauce and herbs. But it can be the star of the show, especially when it’s the heart of a cosy Sunday night roast.
In Western cooking traditions pork belly is most commonly used in it’s cured form as bacon, the star of so many brunch staples. Of course, if you want to go full MasterChef on a café staple you could always take a swing at this fancified eggs Benedict, where the rashers have been replaced with a ham hock terrine doused in Hollandaise sauce. But in Asian cooking styles this intensely rich cut takes on a leading protein role. Caramelised pork belly is a labour of love that involves cooking the meat in a garlic pepper paste that has been stretched out into a cooking liquid flavoured with shaoxing wine, caramel, soy sauce, oyster sauce, cinnamon and star anise. That’s just stage one – the meat needs to be cooled and cut into pieces before being deep fried and then submerged again in a reduced sweet sticky sauce made from the braising liquid.
For similar flavours in less time you can pressure cook pork belly, thread it onto skewers and then grill it quickly at the end to caramelise the meat. In fact, pork belly is so sweet and delicious it can almost pass as a dessert, especially if you’re making this drunken pork belly recipe that uses sweet rum in both the braising liquid and in the caramel sauce that they pair with apples, corn and onion. It’s a dish that lives in the borderlands of sweet and savoury cooking. It gets even quicker if you cut your pork belly super thin and grill it quickly as a rich and flavoursome filling for some fresh rice paper rolls.
Need an outlet for some pent up frustration? Put pork schnitzel on the menu and let it all out as you hammer the pork steaks into 5mm thick fillets to be crumbed in a herb and parmesan shell and fried golden brown. Or spice things up with pulled pork and black bean tacos to rival your favourite Mexican restaurant.
The gentle, slightly sweet flavor of pork makes it an ideal blank canvas for big flavours, like in these braised spare ribs that have been rubbed in a fragrant mega spice mix of paprika, chilli, cumin, mustard, oregano, cinnamon, bay, with brown sugar, bourbon, salt, vinegar and even more mustard (three kinds in total). Welcome to flavour country.
If you like your snacks to be dangerously delicious as well as dangerous for your future heart health, they don’t come crunchier than pork scratchings. The secret is blanching the pork skin before you throw in all in the oven to render away the fat and leave super crisp skin. Or you can nail a fan-favourite with some perfect crispy skin pork belly.
But for the ultimate masterclass in pork, Melbourne’s Jerry Mai, the chef and owner of Vietnamese restaurants Pho Nom and Annam showed the MasterChef contestants a sticky tamarind pork hock with pineapple and apple salsa and banh tieu, a Vietnamese pita pocket. Nail it and you’ll be serving restaurant-quality food at home.