Jamie Oliver says that \”pork belly will be the next foie gras,\” in terms of culinary trends. That may be true, I certainly love to eat it!
Many times, stores will sell their pork belly in narrow strips of approximately a pound. Buy a couple of portions that will fit nicely into a Pyrex or oven-safe casserole dish.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Open a window and temporarily disable your smoke alarm (trust me on this). Adjust oven racks so the top rack is sitting in the middle of the oven.
Pork belly has a fatty side and the meaty side. With the pork belly sitting fatty-side up on your cutting board, use the tip of a sharp paring knife to make uniform slices into the fat, cutting down towards the meaty layer, but trying not to cut into the meaty layer. I typically make diagonal cuts, as close together as my patience will allow. Making these cuts allows the fatty layer to render out more and crisp up nicely.
Put your whole fennel seeds into a dry saute pan and brown the fennel seeds over medium heat. You don\’t want the seeds to get black and they will color very quickly, so stay close. Shake the seeds in the pan so they brown fairly uniformly. Remove immediately from heat once they are browned. Allow to cool for a bit and then grind in a small spice or coffee grinder.
In a small bowl, mix all of your spices together. Then rub the spice mixture onto the fatty side of the pork belly, using your fingers to force as much of the mixture into the cuts as possible. You will not use all of the spice mix, so store the leftover in an airtight container for later use. You\’re not looking to create a thick spice layer on the fat, but make sure it is well covered.
Place the pork belly, fatty side up, in your casserole dish. Pour your liquid so it comes up to about 1/4\” in the dish. Place UNCOVERED in the hot oven. Allow to cook uncovered for approximately 20-30 minutes. The purpose of this is to get the fatty layer rendered out quickly and to get a good crisp on the fat. However, a fair amount of pork grease may get spattered about the oven and some smoking may occur. You don\’t want the fat layer to get burnt black, so keep your eye on it.
Once the fat layer is looking very nicely crispy and dark brown, then immediately lower the oven temperature to 350F and cover the casserole with some aluminum foil. Allow to cook for another 20-30 minutes, until the meaty portion is thoroughly cooked through, but not dried out.