Crispy Vietnamese Roasted Pork Belly (Thịt Heo Quay)

Thịt Heo Quay (Roasted Pork) is an extremely popular dish that is served in all occasions in Vietnamese and Chinese culture. By growing up in a Vietnamese household, I grew accustom to having extended family and friends come over to hangout and kickback without any particular reason (this is called “nhau”, pronounced “knee-ow” which is basically the act of coming together for eating and drinking). More often than not, I would find a huge dish of pork belly taking centerpiece among the numerous bottles of Heineken.

Interestingly enough, thịt heo quay isn’t exclusive to just casual weekend hangouts. This indulgent delicacy also steals the cuisine spotlight in more formal, ceremonial events such as weddings. In a more formal setting, you’d often find the whole entire pig being roasted as opposed to just the pork belly. In any case, this dish is an important and celebrated dish that signifies an un-pork-gettably good time with close family and friends, no matter the occasion.

Although Thịt Heo Quay describes crispy roasted pork, the literal translation is “turning pork meat”. Traditionally, a whole pork is roasted on a spit that turns in a circle for even cooking, hence the term “quay” = “turn” in Vietnamese.

There are a few key steps you need to take to achieve the signature crispy crunch. The first one is to use a meat tenderizer/metal skewer to poke multiple holes on the surface of the skin. This helps fat to render to the top and bubble up to form the puffy, rugged texture. Secondly, if possible, leaving the pork to marinate uncovered in the fridge overnight will dry the skin and help it crispify. Finally, a huge salt layer covering the skin during roasting will draw out any moisture left in the skin, leaving you with the best crunch you can imagine.

Ingredients (Approx 5 servings)
-1.5-2 lb pork belly
-2 Tbsp shaoxing cooking wine
-1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
-1/2 tsp table salt
-1 tsp black or white pepper
-1 tbsp white vinegar
-A lot of kosher salt

Useful Tools
-Aluminum foil wrap
-Meat tenderizer, ice pick, metal skewer, anything sharp and pointy
-Oven with broiler capabilities

Procedure
1) Pat the pork belly dry. Prick multiple holes across the entirety of the pork belly skin, ensuring to not fully pierce the skin deep into the fat.
2) Turn pork belly around (skin-side down). Make diagonal scoring cuts halfway into the flesh of the meat to allow seasoning to go inside. Rub shaoxing cooking wine across the flesh and on the side (not on skin side)
3) Add five-spice powder, table salt, and black/white pepper to the flesh and rub all around bottom of flesh on on the side (not on skin side)
4) Turn skin side up and store in a fridge overnight
5) The following day, pre-heat oven to 350°F
6) Wrap the pork belly in foil, leaving the skin exposed on top, but covering the sides and bottom tightly (to prevent salt from going into the flesh).. Place foil-wrapped belly on roasting tray.
7) Generously cover the entirety of the skin with a layer of kosher salt, until the skin is no longer visible.

Adding salt to the skin side of the pork belly. The sides and bottom of the belly are encased in foil to prevent salt from entering the flesh

8) Place in the oven at 350°F for 60 minutes
9) After 60 minutes, remove pork belly from oven and remove the crusted salt layer on top. Brush off any excess salt and remove foil. Place pork belly in roasting tray.

Salt crust formation after roasting for 60 minutes

10) Brush the skin side with white vinegar
11) Set oven broiler temp to 500°F.
12) Place pork belly (skin-side up) at the bottom-most rack of the oven furthest away from the broiler flame.
13) Broil for 20 minutes, or until the entire pork skin has turned crispy. If necessary, rotate the belly half-way into cook time to ensure even cooking.
14) Once skin crisps up, remove from broiler and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving

Tips/Observations
-When wrapping in foil, ensure that the foil is snug tightly with the sides of the pork belly, so that salt won’t fall to the sides and over-salt the flesh portion of the meat.
-After roasting, the salt should form a salt crust that is easy to take off. This salt crust acts as a great insulator as it draws moisture out from the skin while keeping the skin from burning up. Be sure to remove the salt crust before broiling.

References
Recipe Tin Eat’s Crispy Pork Belly

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