Pressed Pork Belly and the End of Economic Austerity

A symbol of the return to good economic times. Delicious.

This is dedicated to the end of economic austerity in Ireland. As is my way, I know what you are thinking. “What has a bit of pork belly to do with financial collapse and years of hardship for an entire nation?” In truth, the pork belly for me has become a symbol of our ingenuity and our ability to make the best of a pretty dire situation. Let me explain my thinking.

When Ireland enjoyed the status of ‘Celtic Tiger’, we all enjoyed the very finest of everything. As a nation, we forgot our heritage and behaved like the pig that fed at trough, unthinking of the consequences of our debt fuelled national lifestyle. It was party time and it was never going to end. It ended. Spectacularly, as we now know.

About three years ago, as things were at their very lowest, I attended a ‘black tie’ function. Every trick in the catering book had been used to get a presentable meal out without re-breaking our already bust bank. The starter was a seasonal vegetable soup. The main course, the highlight in my memory, was a square of pressed pork belly sitting atop a small pile of mash, served with green beans. It was awful. The pork had not been pressed enough and there was a lot of loose fat. The skin was flaccid and inedible. The meat tasteless. The mash was that awful catering consistency when lots of oil has been used and the vegetables were completely overcooked. For all of that, it has stuck in my mind.

Now that we are on the way out of the financial crisis, I thought it would be an idea to cook Pressed Pork Belly with Cider Sauce served with mashed potatoes and green beans. If I could do better, it would be another sign that we are on the way out of crisis and that life is getting more bearable for us all.

An ingredients list shorter than the crisis.

An ingredients list far shorter than the economic crisis.

Ingredients

  • A big piece of pork belly (2 kilo in this case)
  • 1 litre of cider (or cidre, if you are pretentious like me)
  • Salt and pepper to season.
  • A small bit of oil to rub on the skin

You will need to start this dish a day before you intend eating it. First, pour a kettle full of boiling water over the skin of the pork. This will seize the skin and help it crisp up later. Slice the onion and put it in a roasting pan. Add a handful of peppercorns. Add the pork, skin side up. Pour the cider over the pork.

It's not a waste of cider to pour it over the pork.

It’s not a waste of cider to pour it over the pork.

Cover with tinfoil and roast the pork in the cider for 45 minutes in a 200º C oven. Let it cool in the cider. Take the onion, peppercorns and cider out of the roasting tray and reserve to make the cider sauce. Place a second roasting tray (or something flat that fits in the roasting tray) on top of the pork. Fill the top tray with heavy things like tins of beans, to press the pork. Place the, now very heavy, pork and roasting trays into the fridge overnight. Take the pork out the following day (about 45 minutes before you want to eat). Trim the edges of the pork to make it true (that’s a carpentry term BTW) and cut into serving squares.

Side note on serving squares: The squares can be a lot bigger today than was acceptable a few years ago. This is as a result of our slowly extracting ourselves from the economic morass.  

We would be getting ahead of ourselves if we called them Millionaire Squares.

We would be getting ahead of ourselves if we called them Millionaire Squares.

Season the squares with the salt and pepper. Rub the skin with a little oil and put them into a 220º C fan oven until the skin turns quite crispy. This will take about 20 minutes. While this is going on, reduce the reserved cider sauce by about half. Taste it and add a little sugar if it is a bit bitter. Serve the pork on a bed (a King sized bed now that we are back in the economic game) of mashed potatoes and some nice green beans. Make a moat out of the lovely cider sauce. It might protect us from the next financial crisis. It might just soak into the mash and add to the lovely flavours.

Soaking up the gravy. A symbol of the return to good economic times.

Soaking up the gravy. A symbol of the return to good economic times.

Just in case you think I have lost the run of myself, that’s a bottle of €9.99 Prosecco in the background. It worked very nicely with the lovely pork. Perhaps a vintage Champagne would have been nicer. But, that’s for another day. We may be on the way back. But, we’re not there yet.

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  • Your blog is addictive. Is there a special way to create the potato mash?
    The Chicken pie was lush:)
    Skinny jeans Mum

    • The way I usually do it is to add about a half pint of hot milk and a generous (as generous as on’s conscience will allow) to the potatoes after they have been boiled and drained. After that, it’s completely dependant on the strength and staying power in your arms. When it’s mashed properly, go again until the consistency of thick cream is achieved. It helps to work up an appetite too!

      • The workout is in the cooking – love it! I guess you meant good ol’ butter there after the milk. Shall do. Thanks.

        • I can be an idiot. Yes! Plenty of butter.

  • It’s interesting that pork belly, in Ireland, is indicative of a terrible economy. In the U.S., that piece of meat would easily cost me $35-40. Beautiful meat, as usual.

    • Thanks Adam,
      Such is the way of the world. No doubt, as our economy improves, the prices will go north to compensate.
      Hope all goes well in Texas,
      Conor

  • Now, that’s a fine looking plateful of semi-austerity. Billowy pillow of Proper Mash, a generous slab of pig and some token but decent greens. I’d be drinking more cider with it, myself, but then I’m a big cider fan.

    • I would have swilled some too but, I managed to use it all in the preparation. I’ll do better next time Kate.
      Best,
      C

  • Conor, Based on your photo, it appears we are on our way out of financial crisis here in Ireland. Great news!! Thanks for another deliciously entertaining post. Xx Melissa

    • Thank you Melissa, I certainly hope we are on the road to recovery. It will be a long one, no doubt.

  • Your end of austerity pork sounds delicious, unlike the black tie belly 😉

    • Black tie belly sounds like what one gets from eating out too often MD,
      Best,
      Conor

  • If that’s what austerity brings, I look forward to the next banking crisis. Well, nearly. Sometimes the cheapest cuts bring the finest rewards.

    • Thanks Linda,
      A lot of the time they certainly do. Particularly when there is slow cooking involved (as there isn’t in this).

  • I’ve not tried the pressing trick … the sauce sounds great too.

    • Thanks John,
      It makes them very easy to cut into squares. The sauce was lovely with it.

  • Very interesting. I’ve been reading a lot about the Depression Era in the US and the war effort and many an interesting thing has come of austerity measures including the New Years cake I just posted. Funny that we were on the same page in totally different ways. Happy New Year!

    • I’ll have to hop on a plane to come over and enjoy that cake. It looks far more appetising than my humble pork belly.
      Lovely job Amanda.

      • Ha! Thanks so much! I’d be happy to share it 🙂

  • Dittoing the comment about pork being expensive. Perhaps because most pork belly stateside goes to being bacon, and maybe we’re still recovering from the high prices from the drought two years ago. The cheapest pork cuts I can think of are hocks and butt roasts or shoulder steaks. I should have kept the bear belly for this sort of application!

    • A bear belly would be very interesting indeed Amber. Great idea. Now, if only I could find a bear…

      • Funny you should mention that, because I’ve got one. Only, I brined and smoked it in order to slice it like bacon. It looked remarkably like pork belly. If pigs had red meat and their fat smelled like berries. It’s from the black bear the boyfriend took last September.

  • This is a wonderful recipe! I’ve never heard of pressed pork belly. I hope there’s a pork belly somewhere in my freezer. I want to try this!

    • Thanks Rosemary,
      It was a bit of fun to post. We both know there are a number of pork bellies in that freezer of yours. The Tardis as it is called by some.

  • This post injures me on 2 levels. Firstly, because it looks delicious, but I have a cold and can’t taste anything, and secondly, because the use of the words “pressed belly” reminds me that I have to lose the seventeen stone I put on after Christmas. Thanks, Conor.

    • Sorry Tara. Also on two counts. First sorry to hear you “hab a cobe” and secondly that you can’t see your way to fit this into a healthy 2015 diet.
      Recover soon,
      Conor

      • Oh, I’m sure it could be part of a healthy (but tasty) diet, Conor. If only I had one. But that’s not your fault. Still, like the cold, I’ll get over it!

  • There is a new store that opened up 35 minutes away. They have pork belly! I think I will have to try this…my stomach is now growling….can you hear it? Lovely recipe Conor! Be well! ^..^

    • Thanks Barb,
      I will do my best to stay in good shape. I look forward to seeing your post, assuming you do post it.
      Happy New Year,
      Conor

      • Happy New Year to you and the family! Gary from Yummy Lummy, does a number of pork belly recipes too. They usually make bacon with pork belly here, so it will be nice to do something with that cut of meat and taste it as it truly is. Your recipe is inspiring! Be well! ^..^

  • Hi Conor, what a nice recipe and fun story. I had never heard of pressed pork belly before. What is the purpose of the pressing step?

    • Thanks Stefan. It does compact the meat and fat a bit and makes it very easy to cut into nice regular squares. Apart from that, none, I believe.

  • Looks incredible fella but I have a better cider for you produced locally (well from my Alma Mater – Co.Armagh) – Mac Ivors…check them out conor http://www.macivors.com. Young, craft cider brewer kicking up a storm around the Country.

    • Good thinking Rory. I will keep an eye out for those heroes of Armagh. If we can keep the commerce on the island, we will recover (economically) sooner.
      Best,
      C

  • Thats quite interesting. Pressing the pork. I do find the fat a bit too much in pork belly so Squishing it reduces the gloominess? Will have to try that next year, when I get down to 11 stone. Ha ha.

    • Yeah, the fat gets pressed into a form of ‘Good’ cholesterol. It even helps weight loss. Or so I hear….

      • Shit me I’ve ordered a tonne from Chavco already

  • Yes, stateside here that pork belly would put my family into instant economic demise… However it’s nice I can sit here and drool for free. 🙂

    • Shocking difference. Not as cheap here as they used to be. But, still on the inexpensive end of things.

  • I have a slab of pork belly that I’m going to experiment with very soon. I never though of pressing it though! Seems like a great idea to make a denser piece of meat. What is the texture of pressed pork belly like?

    • It is a little denser and tastes (this may just be me) less fatty though the layers of fat remain. I think the principal benefit is slicability and appearance.

  • Damn fine work there Conor. Restaurant quality 🙂

  • Now, that’s a neat piece of pork belly – beautifully done. My wife’s all time favourite so you’d be very popular in this house. I could also recommend leaving some of the cooking liquid in the tray when resting/pressing (just enough to cover the bottom bit) as the cooked meat seems to take on even more flavour. It was a top tip from a local (starred) head chef I wrote about a little while back.

    • A good thought Phil. Anything to add extra flavour is a bonus.

  • Hi Conor! My Pork Loving Husband would love this! Although it would be much more expensive and hard to find here in the states. I have contacts, may very well be worth the splurge…

  • Worth a bit of austerity if a plate of that is at the end!

    • Possibly not worth what we have been through Michelle. Still, better times ahead.
      Best,
      Conor

  • That looks very delicious and the narrative makes good in selling the meal. I don’t know if I would be courageous enough to have it though:) I am not sure whether I am right or not, but I think I have seen pork belly in heurigers (wine tavern) here in Austria and the prices were very low. Maybe I should try it some time.

  • Well played, sir. Everything pork is expensive now thanks to the great bacon rush. I love me some pork belly. I’ve never had it in a preparation such as this (you’re so fancy, Conor!). But I do like it Korean BBQ-style.

    • Fancy, I think not! I just put on a mask of sophistication and show it to the world through the blog. I’m really very unsophisticated, simple even. Never heard of the Great Bacon Rush. It sounds like fun.
      Best,
      Conor

  • Belly of pork – I can’t think of anything to say as I am busy thinking about it and wishing I was eating it. I know the fashion is lean, lean, lean but for flavour the fat is the most important part. Lovely dish as always.

  • Wow! Impressive. I have a marcassin in my freezer still wondering how to cook it;-)

  • i totally gotta try this pressed belly technique,
    this is what fancy restaurant did and glad that you’ve told me about it Conor!!!!

  • Hello Conor
    I can’t remember how I found you, but am very pleased I did.
    Made this and LOVED it!
    Thank you so much.
    Pork was juicy and crispy in all the right places, and the jus was just plain delicious.
    This is now our ‘go to’ Dinner Party pork dish. 🙂

    • Delighted to be of service.
      Thanks for visiting and for the kind comments.
      Best,
      Conor

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