Pork Belly, Juniper and Gin – It’s a Fashion Thing

Pork with Juniper (6 of 9)

You can see it now. The backdrop is the inside an old red-brick building housing a gleaming modern copper still. The guy, wearing skinny jeans and an old check shirt, is mid 30s with a beard of which Grizzly Adams would be proud. He is holding a glass up to the light, as if he is inspecting a rare diamond for clarity. He’s not, he’s looking at one of the easiest to produce spirits, gin.

In recent years, here in Ireland, there has been an explosion in craft distilleries all wanting to produce excellent Irish whiskey. The problem with excellent whiskey is that it takes many years in the barrel to mature. The lad in the check shirt may want to produce whiskey, but, he has to eat. He can’t afford to wait for years so he does one of two things. He creates an ‘artisinal’ whiskey brand and buys in trade spirit to get him over the few years while his own stuff is in the barrel. Alternately he makes gin to pay the bills while his fledgling whiskey business gets maturing.

Side note on gin bull: When a gin producer talks about “botanicals” many revere his (or her) great understanding of spirit lore and art. “Botanical” means ‘relating to plants’. One adds juniper berries and a few other things to flavour the spirit. There really is little mystique about it. By grouping the flavourings as ’botanicals’ raises the ‘art’ to a level beyond its merit.

Gin has become a real trendy drink here in Dublin. I see hipsters (and others) swilling it, from vast balloon glasses with far too much ice, arguing the merits of the various brands and also the fresh botanicals that should be added by the barman.

I had a bowl of gin recently in a top hotel on Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green. It was served with three large slices of cucumber. I was told it was the best one can get (Hendrick’s and Fever Tree). All I could taste was cucumber. Cold, vaguely alcoholic, fizzy cucumber. I could have bought a large box of cucumbers for the price we paid.

Others regale me with tales of gin and tonic with grapefruit or chilli or even strawberries. I have tried some of these and remain unimpressed. To my mind, this is the worst excess of fashion and the gin thing will pass as soon as the bearded ones get some whiskey out of the barrel and manage to sell that as having some heritage.

In the meantime, here’s a recipe for Pork Belly, Juniper and Gin.

Pork with Juniper

You got to love my botanicals (and a bit of salt).


  • 1.25kg pork belly (free range, rare breed, top quality)
  • 3 teaspoons juniper berries
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 measure (Irish size 35mm) gin
  • Zest of a lime


Pour a kettle of boiling water over the skin of the pork.  This tightens it and helps with later crisping. Pat it dry with paper towels. Cut a diamond pattern in the skin. Grind the juniper berries with the salt and pepper.

Pork with Juniper (2 of 9)

The meat turns white from the boiling water.

Rub the meat all over with the mixture. Zest the lime and rub this all over the meat too.

Pork with Juniper (3 of 9)

A real secret ingredient, lime zest.

Place it in a roasting pan. Pour the measure of gin over the meat. Leave it to rest in a fridge for a couple of hours. Oil the skin side of the meat (I used spray oil).

Pork with Juniper (4 of 9)

The gin helps to make a flavourful sauce.

Place it in a 220ºC oven for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 180ºC and roast for a further 40 minutes. If necessary, turn the heat back up for the final ten minutes to really crisp the skin. Remove from the oven and let it rest for ten minutes.

Pork with Juniper (6 of 9)

It’s a hard decision to not pick at the crispy skin.

Make a gin based gravy from the pan juices if you wish. The juniper makes for a lovely umami sauce. Slice and dish out the pork. It is really wonderful.

Pork with Juniper (8 of 9)

This might be the best tasting pork you will ever have.

Serve it with whatever vegetable takes your fancy. Just don’t serve it with cucumber.  Please, no cucumber. Some fool will make it a fashion thing….

Footnote on making a decent gin and tonic. 

You will need the following:

  • A highball glass
  • A measure and a half (about 50ml) of good gin
  • Lots of ice cubes
  • A small bottle of tonic
  • A lime

Place the glass in your freezer for 10 minutes. Take it out and fill it to about 3/4 full with ice. Add the gin. Rub the rim of the glass with a wedge of lime. Add it to the glass. Add the tonic of your choice. Enjoy a gin and tonic as it should be. I’m not trying to be prescriptive here but, some of the nonsense that’s going on with gin, fruits and vegetables needs to be called for what it is. Nonsense.

Pork with Juniper (9 of 9)

A very traditional and very tasty gin and tonic.

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Latest comments
  • I wish could offer you a slug of Mt. Uncle Botanic Australis Gin, made here in Queensland. It’s a very, very different proposition, being laced with almost exclusively Australian native flavours. The botanicals in question are juniper, peppermint gum, anise myrtle, wattle seed, pepperberry, cinnamon myrtle, lilly pilly, lemon myrtle, lemon scented gum, eucalyptus olida, finger lime, native ginger, river mint and bunya nut. So, not yer average juniper plus handful of dried compost! Bombay Sapphire is very nice, but this stuff is really robust and complex and interesting, and I wouldn’t dream of drowning it in watery fruit and veg. Right, off soapbox, and time to say how very nice that pork looks, but I wouldn’t use my good gin in the recipe 🙂

    • It’s a fab drop don’t you think, chilled, no ice, no tonic, no fruit

      • It tastes of distilled essence of Bush, doesn’t it? Delicious…

  • You must really enjoy living dangerously, Conor 🙂 You couldn’t be more wrong about gin, its botanicals and garnishes. There is a huge variety out there with distinct and wide-ranging flavour profiles. You really need to try it at home where you can make sure the gin isn’t swamped by excessive mixers. BTW – I do happen to agree about Hendricks and cucumber; that’s the way to serve that particular gin but I absolutely hate it, and Hendricks is a long, long way from being the best: it’s just another of the mass-produced generic gins and there are much nicer mixers than Fever Tree out there too. Try Fentiman’s, for example. You should really try some of the small batch gins available. My favourite at the moment is actually an Irish gin – Drumshambo – flavoured with gunpowder tea. Give it a go. If you’re not converted I’ll take the rest of the bottle from you 🙂

  • I’d endorse everything you say about botanical claptrap. You could use 15-20 botanicals and unless you really know what you are doing the result could be catastrophic (and often is) . It’s a personal thing but I hate Hendricks and its accompanying nauseous sliver of slimy cucumber. I was in The Exchequer in town the other night and Hendricks + cucumber was the sole option. Okay, it was just before Christmas but to be summarily poured this drink after asking for a G&T is verging on fraudulent, IMO.
    Best of the new Irish gins are Drumshanbo, Blackwater and Shortcross. The rest are hardly worth considering.

  • I agree, I truly unique Aussie flavour Kate, best served over ice alone

  • Juniper trees grow like weeds around where I live, and juniper berries are abundant each year just outside my house. I could swear the scrub jays get drunk on them, ha! We do have a few gin distilleries here too, so assuming they use local berries? I have to admit I’m not versed at all if the berries from our junipers are edible/good or not for that use. Other than that, the pork looks mouthwatering. I sure wish I could find a decent slab of pork belly around here.

  • Happy New Year Conor! As usual a great recipe and reading. I am with you on the gin: simple, straight and to the point. Not at all fond of all the add ons to it. Blue Sapphire my favorite…
    Wishing you and your family a great year.

  • That looks delicious! I will be trying your recipe.
    Gin is the new vodka, though in the trade, they have been saying, for a couple of years, that whiskey will be the new gin. The interesting thing about gin, is that it’s essentially vodka flavoured with juniper and other aromatics or extracts. Gin and vodka can be made from many ingredients, including corn, wheat, rye, potato, grapes, and sorghum, not to mention carrots, beets, and even milk.

      • On the whole I agree with you, but whiskey will only become he new gin when people get bored with gin.

  • Just made my own batch of gin at Portobello’s Ginstitute in London, which took all of 10 minutes to concoct from a range of 50-odd pre-distilled ‘botanicals’ on offer. I went heavy on liquorice and fennel, which gives it a very distinct flavour from your bog standard gin, but when you pour in a whole bottle of tonic most gins tend to get drowned out, so my advice is to ease up on the tonic, and go large on the ice (in terms of size of cubes). A Tom Collins made with Portobello Gin, soda water and grapefruit peel is currently on the top tipple list.

  • Your last picture looks as if it’s a pint of gin!! We tried making our own gin once by adding some botanicals to a bottle of vodka. Only advice I’d give is your end product will only be as good as your vodka. No amount of tonic water could make it drinkable! As for the pork can’t wait to try it. May as well use up all those juniper berries we bought.

  • Bog standard gin with tonic, lime, elderflower liqueur, cucumber juice and lots of ice makes a very refreshing tall drink when the mercury tops 30 but it would indeed drown out a worthy gin.

    I like your choice of ‘botanicals’ in the pork belly, it looks delicious.

  • That pork looks absolutely fantastic, Conor. I like the botanical seasonings you applied.
    And I had to giggle about your recipe for gin & tonic, which does not list tonic as an ingredient 🙂
    Loved your rant about the gin rage. We have that here, too, and because I don’t partake I am not particularly aware of any botanical additions. But as far as I know, it is more like your version of g&t. Most places will ask you now what type of gin you’d like (and I wouldn’t have the faintest idea).

  • Happy New Year three days late, Conor! Glad to see you well enough to write with your usual tongue-in-cheek humour! Happen to love gin:take a tall glass, in my case preferably Tanqueray instead of Bombay Sapphire, add the tonic and lemon/lime and ice, take a smiling breath and raise your glass to your lips! No fuss, no bother, no analysis 🙂 ! We’d better not put our glasses side-by-side should we ever be fortunate to have one together: they would look exactly the same 🙂 ! Pure enjoyment!!! And your ‘rare breed, top quality’ pork as yet again leaves what I can buy for dead . . . the recipe is already on top of my to-do file tho’ . . .

  • Have to say ‘thank you’ to both Kate and Sandra – had never heard of the Mt Uncle gin but used my lunchtime to go see at my favourite Dan Murphy’s where an on-line order was due: everybody and their dog seems to be raving about that one, but, Conor, hope you have a plump wallet post-Yule. . . . yours or mine x two 🙂 !!

  • WP wouldn’t let me comment yesterday after leaving a note for Kate. Anyway just wanted to compliment you on the delicious pork belly and add that I love Hendrick’s with cucumber. Lucky we all have different taste! Happy New Year Conor

  • HI Conor. We actually tried this yesterday, with Intermarché pork not the finest free range, and no gin but lots of pepper and juniper, and … fair play… it was superb! Crackling and all. Will do it again and experiment with a few different seasonings. Regards pip

  • Stefan, I didn’t see the tonic either first read, but it’s there in the directions. ☺️

  • I just noticed this or forgot about it. Juniper berries! I should try this.

  • My comments went into the ether last week, so I’ll try again. I wanted to chime in with the joys of a tall gin and tonic — simple and delicious — as is a good, dry gin martini. I agree that the fancy-schmancy-ing of ingredients is for the birds, with everyone trying to top his neighbor as to how weird he can get. Give me solid food and drink and I’ll be a happy girl.

  • I’m not sure I’ve come across juniper berries at the store, but I haven’t really looked for them. I love the flavor, though, and I’m intrigued by this recipe!

  • Now, there’s a use for gin I can approve of. (I just never developed a taste for the stuff. Too medicinal-tasting, I think, but Steve loves it.) A very belated happy new year!

      • Thanks, Conor! It’s hard to take a bad picture here, but I’ve taken scores of bad ones…

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