The first time I made Momofuku roasted pork belly I was pretty happy with the results, aside from the fact that it got a little too crispy (ok, burnt) on top. I chalked it up to lack of air flow in the toaster oven compared to the oven-oven. The burntness aside, my other complaint was that the piece of meat that I started with was too thin to get a decent slice of belly featuring the gorgeous layering of meat and fat.
The problem with the too thin cut of meat was easily solved: I bought a thicker slice of meat and set out with high hopes. This time I would roast it the right way, in the oven, and my belly would be golden meltingly tender meat.
There are two philosophies of meat roasting: 1. high heat to sear, then low and slow, or 2. low and slow, then high heat to finish. Chang’s belly follows the first philosophy, sear the meat so the outside is toasty and and then cook it low and slow so the meat is tender. The initial high heat renders out a bunch of fat so that when you get to the low and slow, you’re basically confiting the belly in it’s own pork fat bath.
In theory, this cooking method works. I’m sure Momofuku’s pork bellies come out great every time. Mine, on the other hand burn and shrink. Too much fat is rendered out and I’m left with tiny burnt remnants of what used to be luscious belly. Even using the oven to improve air circulation didn’t help. I started out with a piece of belly the size of, oh, let’s say a paper back novel and ended up with a charred piece of meat the size of a chocolate bar. Needless to say, I was sad.
I was determined to roast a perfect piece of belly for my pork buns so I did what any obsessive-compulsive person would do: I bought another piece of belly to try again. This time I deliberated at the meat counter until I saw the thickest, meatiest piece of belly they had.
After two failed trials of meat roasting philosophy 1, I knew it was time to move on to meat roasting philosophy 2: low and slow with high heat to finish. To ensure my success, I also decided to cover the belly with parchment paper so there wouldn’t be excessive browning on top. I put the belly in a 250˚F toaster oven for over 3 hours and near the end removed the parchment paper, basted, and cranked the temperature up to 400˚F.
Success, delicious success: golden brown, pillowy-soft, visible layers of meat and fat. It was the most beautiful pork belly I ever did see!