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#28 Crispy pork belly chronicles
If I have peg for cooking crispy pork belly, it has to be the roast pork belly at Earthen Jar, a pop-up food stall in Chiang Mai.
I can’t recall anymore when I had my first crispy pork belly meal, but I will never forget where I had the best crispy pork belly. Decades separate these two events so, as can imagine, I’ve eaten a lof of crispy pork belly in between, and I know that I’m in a good position to compare.
And just where did I have the pleasure of eating the best crispy pork belly ever? In Chiang Mai. It’s not deep fried pork belly — it’s roasted pork belly.
Earthen Jar Roast Pork is a pop-up food stall that operates between 4.00 to 8.00 p.m. across the street from a local market. The marinated slabs of pork belly (and chicken too!) are pierced with an S-shaped metal hook and hung from the mouth of oversized earthen jars. The jars are covered and the meats cook for two hours. When they come out, the pork skins are puffed to a crisp and the meat is a reddish gold.
I grew up in a country where pork belly with crispy skin is worshipped and I consider myself a connoiseur of both fried and roasted versions. But the pork belly at Earthen Jar Roast Pork made me forget every pork belly with crispy skin I had eaten in the past.
The pork and chicken were served with dipping sauces and a small plate of the freshest Thai basil. We were advised that, for the best experience, we should pop a piece of pork or chicken into our mouth, add a basil leaf and chew. I did and the flavors that burst inside my mouth wanted me to finish everything on the plates.
The pork skin was so crisp and light — the mouthfeel was almost comparable with eating prawn crackers. You’d think that with such a long cooking time, the meat would be dry and leathery but, no. The meat was tantalizingly succulent and tasty. So was the chicken. The seasoning that suffused the meat went all the way to the bone.
At home, we cook crispy pork belly in the air fryer
I discovered the joys of roasting pork belly instead of deep frying it quite by accident. It was in 2005 when we built a new kitchen wing in our old house and we got a new oven. I was getting acquainted with it so I decided to stick a slab of boiled pork belly inside. I was so amazed at the result that I rarely opted for the deep frying method since. I called my oven roasted pork belly lechon sa hurno and promptly shared it in my old blog.
Then, the air fryer came along. And we discovered that it’s an even better kitchen appliance to turn pork skin into crackling.
Simmer a slab of pork belly, drain and transfer to the air fryer. Thirty minutes later, you have perfectly cooked crispy pork belly with crackling skin. Get the recipe.
We often use crispy pork belly as an ingredient rather than serve it by itself
Crispy pork belly in coconut cream sauce - A spin on the Filipino dish Bicol Express, the meat is not simmered in spicy coconut cream sauce in this recipe. Sauce is ladled in serving bowls, cubes of crispy pork belly are dropped in, more sauce is drizzled over the pork and chili slices are sprinkled in to garnish. Get the recipe.
Banh mi with crispy pork belly - We make banh mi at home occasionally but this version with roast pork belly filling, inspired by a comment made by our Saigon street food walking tour guide, is the best so far. Get the recipe.
Dinardaraan (pork blood stew with crispy pork belly) - Dinuguan, Filipino pork blood stew, is found across the islands. But there are regional variations. The sauce can be thick, the stew can be soupy and, in the case of dinardaraan, the dish is oily and but the sauce is cooked until almost dry. Get the recipe.
Gising-gising with crispy pork belly - Wake up! Wake up! is what gising-gising translates to. With the addition of chilies in this variant of guinataan (the catch-all term for Filipino dishes cooked with coconut milk or cream), gising-gising has enough heat to really wake you up. Get the recipe.