There are so many different cuts of pork, each with a unique set of characteristics that require their own method of barbecuing or cooking. From the creamy loin chop that needs quick grilling, to the meaty shoulder that should be slow-smoked and pulled. From the soft and gelatinous cheek that must be braised, to the crispy tail that needs to be fried. I could go on.
The belly is my guilty pleasure. It can be slowly braised until it pulls apart, cured to make bacon or barbecue-roasted until soft and tender. There are chops to be slow-grilled, ribs to be smoked and crackling to be devoured. This recipe uses a combination of these techniques, slow-braising the belly until meltingly tender and then finishing it on the grill for some smoky barbecued goodness.
Filfelchuma, a Libyan condiment similar to harissa, provides a fiery garnish juxtaposed against the sweet pineapple salsa.
For the brine
500ml just-boiled water, plus 8 litres water
600g table salt
400g caster sugar
For the pork belly
1 x 4-4.5kg pork belly, boned
200g Pork Rub (see recipe below)
4-5 Turkish chilli peppers
2 large onions, sliced into 2cm rounds
150ml runny honey
100ml white wine
2 dried bay leaves
3 tbsp Filfelchuma (see recipe below), or harissa
½ bunch of thyme sprigs
For the pineapple salsa
1 pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into wedges
80ml cider vinegar
2 tbsp orange juice
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1½ tsp ground cumin
pinch of salt
4-5 spring onions, green parts only
2 tbsp roughly chopped coriander
Filfelchuma (see below)
FOR THE BRINE
In a container large enough to hold the pork belly (a saucepan works well), add the salt to the hot water and stir to dissolve, forming a sludge-like consistency. Top up with the remaining water, then add the sugar and stir to combine. Submerge the pork belly in the brine and leave in the fridge overnight.
TO COOK THE PORK BELLY
Preheat the oven to 130°C/110°C fan/gas mark 1.
Remove the pork belly from the brine and pat dry. Score both sides of the belly with a sharp knife in a crosshatch pattern, up to 0.5cm deep. Rub the pork all over generously with the rub.
Scatter the chilli peppers in a roasting tray or casserole dish large enough to accommodate the pork belly, and lay the onion slices as a bed upon which the pork will sit. Transfer the pork, skin-side down, on top of the onion and drizzle half the honey directly over it and the remaining half into the pan. Add the water and white wine, followed by the bay leaves, filfelchuma and thyme. Cover tightly with a double layer of tin foil, making sure to crimp the foil along the edge of the roasting tray. Transfer to the oven and cook for 2 hours, basting periodically with the juices, before turning the pork over to cook for a further 3 hours, until tender and all but pulling apart with the lightest of pressure.
Once cooked, carefully lift the pork from the roasting tray and transfer it to rest on a cooling rack. Strain the cooking liquor through a fine sieve into a heavy-based saucepan. Place over high heat and simmer to reduce to a thickened sauce with a glaze-like consistency thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Cool and refrigerate.
Wrap the pork in clingfilm and return it to the cooling rack, set over a shallow tray, pressed with a heavy weight overnight in the refrigerator. I use a roasting tray filled with water as a press, but heavy tins should also work just fine.
The next day, take the pork belly out of the fridge and allow it to come back to room temperature. Set a barbecue up for single-zone direct grilling (tip below) over medium-high heat.
FOR THE PINEAPPLE SALSA
Roll the pineapple in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the pineapple directly over hot embers, until well charred all over. Remove from the grill and hack into rough pieces.
Combine the sugar, vinegar and orange juice in a small saucepan and place over medium-high heat to dissolve the sugar. Add the star anise, cinnamon stick, cayenne and cumin as well as the pineapple chunks, and continue to cook over low heat for 12-15 minutes, until the liquid has thickened. The salsa should be quite dry. Season with salt to taste and leave to cool a little. Fold the spring onion greens and coriander through the mix once nearly cool.
TO FINISH THE PORK BELLY
Slice the pork into 2.5cm thick slabs. Reheat the glaze. Grill the pork belly slices on both sides, brushing continually and generously with the glaze until well charred and warmed through.
Serve the pork with some filfelchuma, pineapple salsa and bread.
Berber & Q Pork Rub
25g curry powder
40g chilli powder
30g smoked paprika
80g soft dark brown sugar
40g flaked sea salt
35g caster sugar
20g garlic granules or powder
10g ground cumin
¼ tsp ground fennel
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Just blitz all the ingredients together in a food processor or spice grinder to a fine powder, transfer to an airtight container and store for up to two weeks.
Makes about 300g
4 dried red chillies
1½ tbsp cayenne pepper
3 tbsp sweet paprika
½ tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp caraway seeds
12-15 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
120ml sunflower oil
olive oil, to cover
Put the chillies in a bowl and cover with just-boiled water. Leave to rehydrate for at least 6 hours. Drain, cut off the stalk, deseed and roughly chop.
Toast the cayenne pepper, paprika, ground cumin and caraway seeds in a pan over medium-high for a few minutes until fragrant and smoking.
If you have a mortar and pestle big enough, work the garlic with the salt until paste-like in consistency. In the absence of a mortar and pestle, use a food processor. Add the spices, rehydrated chillies and lemon juice and work to combine. Gradually add the oil until the desired consistency is achieved. The filfelchuma should form a thick, rough paste with a texture comparable to pesto.
Transfer the sauce to an airtight container or sterilised Kilner jar or similar storage vessel and cover with olive oil. The sauce will easily keep for up to 4 weeks in the refrigerator.
Single-zone set-up for direct grilling
This is the simplest set-up and involves building a large bed of burning embers, usually at a distance of between 7cm and 15cm directly below the grill rack itself. The coals can either be distributed evenly across the charcoal grate, or be built up more heavily in one area to create different grilling zones and enable you to cook at different temperatures. Open the vents at the bottom if you have them.
Extracted from Berber & Q by Josh Katz (Ebury Press, approx €28). Photography by James Murphy