I have wanted to write about, and cook siew yoke for quite some time, and finally I've managed it! Now belly pork is one of nature's great treats, and what interests me most is the many ways around the world local people prepare it. Here in Britain, long slow cooking is considered to achieve the greatest results, however with this recipe it's a relatively short blast of extreme heat that produces the desired taste and textures.
I have to say that this is not necessarily the most authentic of siew yoke recipes as it omits the fermented red bean curd, but I don't think anyone will be disappointed with the end product.
It is perfect served hot as part of a Chinese meal, or indeed makes the most brilliant canapes when served cold with a spicy little dipping sauce!
1 fairly large piece of belly pork, skin on (say 1kg)
2 tablespoons of coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons of ground five spice (shop bought or home made- see below)
Let's start with the five spices which are surprisingly easy to prepare and delicious when made fresh!
Ingredients for five spices
1.5 table spoon ground star anise
2.5 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1.5 teaspoon ground cinnamon
0.5 teaspoon ground Szechwan pepper
0.5 teaspoon ground cloves
This will make more 5 spices than called for in the recipe, but will obviously keep, stored in an air-tight jar. Simply blend all of the above ground spices. If not available ground, grind in a spice grinder or even the coffee grinder!
The key to this dish is the crunchy, crispy delicious crackling. Now there are numerous theories and practices about getting good crackling, using boiling water, vinegar etc, but to me the most important factor is having the pork skin as dry as possible before cooking.
Firstly bring your piece of pork belly up to room temperature by allowing it to stand out of the fridge for at least an hour, uncovered. This also helps the drying process. If not already scored, do so with a stanley knife, but be careful. We want to expose the fat under the skin, but not cut down into the meat itself. When at room temperature dry off the skin with kitchen towels ( it should be pretty dry by now anyway).
Take the sea salt and the ground five spice and mix well together and then work the mixture into the scored surface of the belly pork. Work it in really well, effort here will reward you with amazing crackling! Ensure a very good coating across all the skin and leave aside for a further two hours minimum, longer if possible.
An hour and a half before serving (if serving hot) heat up the oven to 200 C. Place the pork on a rack in the middle of the oven, and a large deep tray on the shelf below to catch all the juices and fat (which can be used another time - delicious!). Close the door and leave to cook at 200 C for 40 minutes
After 40 minutes change the oven settings to grill (or remove pork if using a separate grill) and grill at about 60% of maximum heat setting (you may have to modify settings depending on grill and oven size). Grill for a minimum of 20 minutes, but monitor the pork as although we want wonderful charred crackling, we don't want to cremate the pork. Don't be too concerned though if the salt/five spices mix turns black - it should do so, it will be scraped off as you will see.
After a minimum of 20 minutes carefully remove the pork and place on a chopping board to rest a little. ( I hope your kitchen will nor be too smokey, but that's a possibility - get those windows open!)
Allow the pork to rest for 10 minutes, then using a reasonably heavy chef's knife, scrape away the charred and burnt salt/five spices mixture. What you should have left is a beautifully golden, rough crackling. Now chop or slice (using a sharp serrated knife if not chopping) into those all too familiar chunks of golden crispy crackling, with delicious soft unctious pork and fat underneath.
If serving immediately, pile into a large bowl and bring to the table with steamed rice and stir fried vegetables - I assure you it will taste fantastic, and be infinitely better than takeaway or shop bought!
This dish can also be served as a delightful cold canape, just ensure the chunks are bite sized, and a dipping sauce of soy, fresh ginger and fresh red chillies is offered alongside! Salty, spicy, crunchy and soft - all at the same time!