Pork Belly is not for the faint hearted, but it is a must for anyone that just adores the slow cooked, cheaper and more tastier cuts of meat on offer these days.  That would be me.  Crispy, succulent and juicy the pork was the definite standout in this dish but only just sneaking in front of the gorgeously fragrant and syrupy braised fennel and apples that accompanied it.  Just to top it off, a little creamy mash to soak up all that delectable sauce…….Nom, nom, nom.

Prep time:   30 Minutes              Cooking time:  4 Hours            $  Low Budget

Serves 4

For the Pork:

1.25kg piece of pork belly, skin scored at 1cm intervals

2 tsp of fennel seeds

1 tsp of chilli flakes

1 tsp of sea salt

1/4 cup of olive oil

For the Fennel & Apples:

20gm of butter

1tbs of olive oil

1/2 tsp of sugar

1 Fennel bulb, top & bottom trimmed and sliced into 8 wedges

2 green apples, peeled & cored and cut into 4

1 cup of dry white wine

1/2 cup of chicken stock

2 tbs of balsamic vinegar

2 tbs of lemon juice

Sea salt and cracked pepper

For the Mash:

2 Large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

20gm of butter

1/4 cup of milk

A pinch of nutmeg

Sea salt and cracked black pepper

In a mortar & pestle or a spice grinder, give the fennel seeds a little bit of a pound with the sea salt.  You don’t want it to be a powder but you do want to release some of those aromas.  Stir in the chilli flakes.

If you have an oven/grill* set your oven to 240°C and pop your grill on.  Boil the kettle and pour the hot water over the pork belly in your sink and then dry it thoroughly with paper towel.  Place the pork on a rack inside a roasting pan and fill the pan with enough water to cover the base.  Making sure the pork skin is super dry, rub it liberally with olive oil and then rub in the fennel, chilli and salt.

Place in the oven with the grill on for approximately 25-30 minutes, checking regularly so the crackling doesn’t burn.  It will make a bit of a mess of your oven but it is a small price to pay!  After 25-30 minutes if the skin is super crispy, turn the oven down to about 160°C and continue to cook for 31/2 hours, checking the water level every 30 minutes or so.  Do not let the pan dry out……the water almost steams the pork and the result is out of this world.   After 31/2 hours remove the pork from the oven and cover loosely with foil to rest for at least 20 minutes.

About 30 minutes before the pork is ready, heat a large pan on the stove and add the butter, sugar and olive oil.  Allow it to melt and start bubbling before adding the fennel and apple slices.  You may need to squeeze them in a little or you can cook in batches.  Brown evenly on all sides and then remove from the pan.  Add the balsamic and lemon juice to the pan and rub the bottom with a wooden spoon, then pour in the stock and wine.  Place the fennel and apples back in the pan and cover with a tight fitting lid and simmer on low for approximately 10 minutes or until tender.  Remove the lid and allow the sauce to reduce until it is more like a glaze.  If it looks a little dry, spoon some of the pork juices in……and if your apples go a little mushy, don’t worry!  It almost becomes like a thickened sauce…..

Bring the sweet potato to the boil in a pot of salted water.  After approximately 15 minutes or when tender, drain and mash well with a potato masher.  Add the milk and butter and season with salt, pepper and the nutmeg.  Whip with a wooden spoon until creamy.  Add a little more milk if the mixture looks a little dry.

Place the pork belly on a cutting board and using a bit of brute force, cut into four even pieces.  Divide the mash between four serving plates and spoon the fennel and apples on top.  Rest a piece of pork belly on each and spoon over any remaining sauce.  Top with a few fennel fronds if you so desire……

*  If your grill is separate, place the pork in the grill if you can for the same amount of time and then put it in the oven for an extra 1/2 an hour.  If it won’t fit in the grill just turn your oven up as high as it will go for 30 minutes.