Lechon Pork Belly Roll
Filipino Crackling Crispy Pork Roast with Homemade Gravy
8 to 9 lb whole pork belly (rind-on and boneless)
Lechon Marination Paste:
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp fine grated lemon zest / zest from 1 lemon (similar to 3 stalks lemongrass)
1 tbsp dried thyme (similar to bay leaves)
1 tbsp dried oregano (similar to bay leaves)
1 shallot (sub: 1 small onion)
1 bulb of garlic (12 to 15 cloves)
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
Marinating the Lechon:
Take an 8 to 9 lb. whole boneless pork belly skin-side down on a clean flat surface. Do a "test roll" by rolling it up along the short side to see which part of the skin will be inside the roll and which parts will be exposed to the oven heat. Using a sharp knife, score the dividing line. Flip the pork belly skin-side up and using the scoring as a guide, cut off the skin that would end up inside the roll.
Flip the pork belly over so it's skin-side is down again. Using the same knife, score the meat about 1-inch apart and about 1/2-inch deep in a cross-hatch pattern, so you create a diamond pattern in the meat.
In a food processor, add in 1 tbsp of whole black peppercorns, 1 tbsp of kosher salt, finely grated zest from 1 lemon - about 1 tbsp of lemon zest (lemon zest will imitate the flavor of lemongrass in lechon), 1 tbsp of dried thyme, 1 tbsp of dried oregano (thyme and oregano will imitate the flavor of bay leaves in lechon), 1 shallot (sub: 1 small onion), and 1 bulb of garlic (about 12 to 15 cloves). Pulse this mixture until everything is finely chopped.
(note: we are using lemon zest instead of lemongrass, and thyme/oregano instead of bay leaves in the rub so that there are no fibrous, solid pieces in this lechon roll, and the roll can easily be sliced into discs).
Add in 1 tbsp of white vinegar, 1 tbsp of soy sauce, and 2 tbsp vegetable oil. Continue to pulse in the food processor, until you get a smooth paste. Stop pulsing to scrape the sides of the food processor as needed.
Rub the resulting paste onto the meat part of the pork, taking care to massage the lechon marinade paste into the crevices of the cross-hatch pattern created earlier.
Cut 8 to 9 pieces of kitchen twine that are long enough to tie around the pork once rolled. Our pieces of twine are usually about 24 inches long. Depending on the size of your pork belly, there should be enough pieces of twine to tie around the pork belly at 1-inch intervals.
From the short end of the pork like during the test roll, roll the pork belly into a tight log. Start by tying a piece of twine at the center of the roll, tightly with a double knot. Then tie twine at the ends of the log, again tying it tightly with a double knot. Continue working inwards towards the middle of the log, shimmying the twine under the log, then tying the twine tightly with double knots, with the loops of twine about 1 inch apart. Cut off the excess twine from the ends of each knot.
In a small bowl, add in 1 tbsp of kosher salt, 1 tsp ground black pepper, and 1 tsp of baking soda. Mix to combine. Rub this mixture all over the outer surface of the secured log of pork. This will help dry out the skin and make it crispy when roasted.
Place the log on a metal rack over a sheet pan with the seam side down, and let it rest in the fridge, uncovered, overnight, up to 24 hours.
Roasting the Lechon:
The next day when you're ready to roast, take the pork out of the fridge. Place your oven rack in the middle position, and preheat your oven to 325 F (165 C).
On the same metal rack over a sheet pan it was marinated in, roast the pork in the preheated oven at 325 F (165 C), until the thickest part of the pork reads a minimum of 160 F (70 C) in the middle of the roast, about 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Note: smaller roasts will take less time to reach 160 F (e.g. for a 5 to 6 lb roast, start checking at the 2-hour mark, then check every 30 minutes).
When the thickest part of the pork reads a minimum of 160 F (70 C), take the pork out of the oven, and increase the oven temperature to 500 F (260 C). While waiting for the oven to reach 500 F, line a new sheet pan with aluminum foil (this will help to minimize smoking, and make cleanup easier). Transfer the metal rack with the roast onto the new aluminum foil-lined sheet pan. Pour the liquid/drippings from the previous sheet pan into a small saucepan. Let the darkened bits settle at the bottom. Then pour out the oil / excess fat at the top. We only want the darkened bits/drippings, so you can discard the oil/fat. Set this sauce pan with the darkened bits/drippings aside for now to make gravy later on.
Return the roast into the oven and continue cooking at 500 F (260 C) until the exterior skin is well-browned, crispy, and blistered, about 20 minutes. Note that this high temperature may cause some smoking, so we’d suggest opening windows and making sure the kitchen is well ventilated. Make sure to allow the lechon pork belly roll to rest on the metal rack for a minimum of 30 minutes before slicing.
While the lechon pork belly is resting for 30 minutes, you can make an optional gravy with the darkened bits / drippings we had separated. In the small saucepan that we had poured the darkened bits/ drippings into earlier, add in 2 cups of chicken broth and 1 cup of whole milk. Whisk in 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour, breaking up any lumps in the flour as much as possible.
On your stove, turn the flame on to medium heat, and bring this mixture to a simmer while continuing to whisk, until the gravy comes to a boil and begins to thicken. When it starts boiling, add in 1/2 tsp of dried thyme and 2 tbsp dark brown sugar, and continue cooking for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until it thickens to your desired consistency.
Once the lechon has rested for at least 30 minutes and you're ready to carve, cut off and remove the twine. Transfer the finished lechon pork belly roll onto a carving board and using a serrated knife, cut into 1-inch thick discs. Serve with the gravy and enjoy!