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Roast Belly of Pork with Apple Sauce

Roast Pork

From The River Cottage Meat Book, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Serves about 8

I love to roast a belly of pork because it's so fantastically forgiving. The rich seams of fat keep the meat tender and juicy, no matter how long you cook it for. So I tend to concentrate on getting the crackling right and find the rest just falls into place.

I don't like the convention of apple sauce with a very lean pork joint, such as leg or loin, because I find the tartness overpowers the delicate flavor of the meat. But for a crude, fatty cut like this, it is perfect. The citrus juice and zest keep the sauce aromatic as well as tart.

Pork belly may not be the easiest cut to find in the U.S. It will help if you have a relationship with a good, responsive butcher who can save you the belly meat before it gets turned into bacon.

The thick end of the belly (last 6 ribs):

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fresh thyme leaves

The apple sauce:

4 or 5 large Granny Smith or other tart cooking apples

A squeeze of lemon juice

Grated zest (no pith) and juice of 1/2 orange

1 to 2 tablespoons superfine sugar (to taste)

Score the skin of the belly with a sharp knife (a utility knife is surprisingly handy) and rub with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme leaves, getting the seasoning and herbs right into the cracks. Roast in a hot oven (425 F) for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 F and cook for roughly another hour, until the juices run clear when the meat is pierced with a skewer and the crackling has crackled to an irresistible golden brown. If the crackling is reluctant, whack up the heat again, as high as you like, and check every few minutes till it's done.

To make the sauce, peel, core, and slice the apples, tossing them with the lemon juice as you go. Put them in a pan with the orange zest and juice and a first sprinkling of sugar. Cook gently until the apples break up into a rough puree, then check for sweetness and adjust to your taste. Keep warm (or reheat gently to serve).

Remove the crackling from the pork before carving, then cut the joint into thick slices. Serve each person one or two slices with a good piece of crackling, and bring the apple sauce to the table. I like to serve this with mashed potatoes, not roasted ones, as there's already plenty of fat and crispiness on the plate. Some simple, lightly steamed greens such as Savoy cabbage, spinach, or curly kale will help to ease your conscience as you lap up the lard.

From The River Cottage Meat Book, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Copyright (c) 2007 by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Published by Ten Speed Press. Reprinted with permission.

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