Chinese Roast Pork Belly (Siew Yuk) by Wei
Recipe by Wei. Wikified by Kenning.
I’ve been living in Sydney for just over 5 years, and I was never satisfied with the Chinese-style roast pork I’d get at the various take-outs here. The barbecue places roast their pigs whole, so there’s plenty of other cuts and you wouldn’t normally get the best part, the belly. The crackling also tended to get hard and chewy if the cooked pork sat around for too long, and you never know how long they’ve been sitting out. It was mostly the inconsistency which drove me to start making my own. After a bit of experimentation, I’ve come up with a recipe I’m happy to share.
I expect some comments about food contamination. I’m not going to debate food safety in this thread, but I’ll say that I’ve yet to kill or make anyone sick.
- A piece of pork belly (Skin-on, this is important! Try to get something with nice layers of fat and meat.)
- An oven with a broil function
- Vodka (or other neutral-tasting spirit)
- Five spice powder
- Red fermented beancurd, or you can use the type preserved in chilli if you can’t get the red stuff. Also known as Chinese ‘cheese’. They usually come in glass jars, as pictured above. They’ll be available at your local Chinese grocer. If you can’t get either, it’s okay to omit it.
Blowtorch or shave off any hair left on the skin, if you care about this.
I use a little wooden implement with spikes to make a shitload of puncture holes in the skin. This helps the fat render out of the skin during the roasting process, which results in a nice and even crispy crackling. If you have a tool like that with spikes, do this. This is what it looks like close up:
If not, you can score the skin both lengthwise and crosswise with a sharp knife. Make sure not to cut through the skin into the fat layer. Try to keep the distance between each score about 5-10mm.
This is a crappy picture, but the skin will look a bit like this after being punctured:
Now the next step probably goes against a lot of food safety rules, so skip it if you like.
Sit the pork belly on a wire rack in the sink, and pour 1.5 litres of boiling water over the skin. This is risky because the belly has to be exposed in the fridge for 24-48 hours, and the outer edges of the belly will be partly cooked from the scalding. OP no longer believes this step is necessary, see bottom.
While it cools, prepare the seasoning.
The following measurements are for a piece of pork belly just under 2 pounds. Combine a 1 tsp piece of fermented beancurd, 1-2 tsp five spice powder, 1.5 tsp salt and 1 tsp sugar, and 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced. Mash into a paste. I use table salt, so I'm guessing you need a bit more if you use kosher or something coarser.
If you’re not using the fermented beancurd, use an extra half teaspoon of salt. The absence of the beancurd will most likely result in the garlic burning during the roasting, and it won’t combine readily into a paste. You can omit the garlic, or use garlic powder or something. I’ve never done this without the beancurd, so I’m not sure what to do.
Wipe the belly dry with paper towels after it cools enough to handle. Score the underside of the belly about 10mm deep, like so:
Rub your paste (or dry-rub) all over the belly except the skin. Make sure to get it in the cracks on the scored underside. It’ll look like this:
Paint the skin with vodka. I think I used about 1/2 to 1 tsp. It doesn’t have to be swimming in it, just a sheen of vodka will do. Sprinkle 1/2 a teaspoon of salt on the skin and pop the belly into the fridge for 24-48 hours. Be sure to keep the belly elevated on a small rack or something, so the vodka doesn’t soak the underside of the belly. You’ll need to leave the belly exposed, so I hope your fridge has nothing nasty in it. Once or twice during the refrigeration period, say about 12 hours apart, paint another layer of vodka and sprinkle more salt on the skin.
The salt draws out moisture from the skin. The vodka is supposed to denature the skin or something, which also contributes to the formation of bubbly crackling. I don’t know the science behind it so I’m not going to go into that.
Traditionally, the Chinese use bicarbonate of soda or a lye water solution instead of vodka. I picked up the vodka thing on a different cooking forum, where someone experimented with 6 different solutions. He found that vodka gave the best results. I’ve done it with lye water before, which imparted a soapy flavour to the skin. I’ve also done it without applying anything to the skin, and the skin was still hard and not crispy in some places.
After a day or two the skin will be dry and hard to the touch, and the salt on the skin should have dissolved. The vodka will have evaporated.
Preheat oven to 160-170C. Place the belly on a rack in a roasting tray, then pop it in the middle rack of the oven for an hour. Most people would roast at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time, but I find the slow roasting results in a better crackling (more time to render the fat on the skin). Use a thermometer if you have one, I’d take it to medium or medium-well.
You’ll get something that looks like this after an hour. Pay no heed to the extra skins in the background, they’re rogue skins from a pork shoulder.
Wipe as much liquid fat off the surface of the skin as possible, using a paper towel. This is especially important if you have a pool of fat on the surface, as it will prevent the crackling from forming. Now turn the broiler on, and broil until the skin until it looks like this, about 5 minutes:
If you haven’t done this before and your oven window is clean enough to see through (clean it you filthy goon), watch the belly skin bubble up as you broil it. It should start bubbling up almost instantly, it’s pretty fun to watch them form. If you like bubbles, that is.
Broil until there are bubbles all over the surface, but stop if nothing else forms after about 5 minutes, or you’ll burn it. If you’re an idiot like me and got distracted by the telly during the broiling, scrape and dust off any black bits on the crackling.
Let it rest for about 15-20 minutes, then chop to the size of your liking. I find it easier to slice it from the bottom (skin side down), because the crackling shatters very easily.
While it rests, cook up a quick veggie stir-fry. Serve on plain white rice, with stir-fried veggies of your choice.
Feel free to change the seasonings as you wish. Mine might be a little too salty for some palates. If you google a bit you’ll find that most people have their own recipe. I haven’t tried it myself but you should be able to skip the scalding step. Between the puncturing/scoring, drying out the skin in the fridge and vodka/salt treatment of the skin, the crackling should still be decent.
I made it again, skipping the boiling step. There wasn't any discernible difference, so I'll be skipping that step in the future. The recipe I adapted says that's supposed to make the skin crispier and lighter. The salty rub and alcohol should make it safe enough to sit in a clean fridge for 2 days, but I'm no authority on food safety. I'll put the recipe up on the wiki sometime soon.