Pork Belly Lechon

When I was back home, I constantly reminded myself of my schedule. I may or may not leave so soon, I realized. There was really no fixed date, no pressing matter to attend to.

Then came the invitation for dinner, around a week after Jad’s funeral. We (my friends/classmates) haven’t really had a chance to talk about things out in the open. The situation was a delicate one. But the dinner had to happen. Naturally, I hosted it, and played the part of the cook. It’s a part I like to play because I think cooking for people who matter is on the list of things that feed my soul.

I didn’t want it to be complicated. My dinners have never tried to be uptight and I want it to stay that way. I love my people, and maybe that helps.

And I love pork. Strokes of brilliance on this blog have always involved pork, one way or the other. When I was thinking about what to prepare for dinner, a glorious way to feast on pork was on my mind.

And this, my friends, is glorious (if I do say so myself).
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Porchetta was on my mind when I was preparing my list. I’ve always wanted to make it, and I did get a chance to witness how it’s done when I was in school. But I also found myself craving for lechon while I was home. Mom would relent and come home with a small package of chopped up pig for me. That may have happened more than once.

I thought about taking a nice slab of pork belly and drowning it in the typical lechon aromatics (minus the calamansi because I don’t like it). Roasting it on low for a few hours makes it dastardly fork-tender, and during the last hour of baking, cranking the heat up will yield a crackling so divine.

The result blew me away. There is no breakthrough, no secret technique, no new flavor. I just made damn good lechon, and that for me, was a new notch in my belt. And if I’m being corny here, I’d like to call it “pinoychetta”. I’m also clever like that.
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All in all, I had two more attempts just to prove the first one wasn’t a fluke. The first one was a trial-run (my mom and her office mates were the lucky ones). The second was for the dinner, and the last was the big bang before I left.

The dinner itself was great. They loved the pork. Because they’re my friends, naturally they had to sing praises.
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They were fed well, we talked until we had no more stories to tell, and one of my friends, Jam, received a birthday cake a week early. It was a heavy chocolate cake with coffee buttercream, studded with shards of almond praline. I didn’t bring my piping tips so I was rubbish with the rosettes, but they liked it.

It was also passed around for posterity and the July babies went nuts. Somehow bearing the brunt of loss seemed lighter, even just for a night. I haven’t laughed so hard in a while.

So this pork is a thing of beauty. It’s not something you would whip up on a weeknight (but I’m not stopping you!). Reserve a weekend. Prepare this on Saturday, wake up early on Sunday to start roasting it. By lunchtime, you feast and the next day, you fast.
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Roasted Pork Belly “Lechon”

  • 1.5 kg pork belly slab, skin on
  • 3 whole garlic bulbs, peeled and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup oregano leaves, washed then chopped
  • 3 red onions, peeled and chopped
  • around 4 – 5 lemongrass stalks, sliced
  • the zest from 1 lemon
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • a little over 1/8 cup salt, plus more for an even rub around the pork
  • 4 tablespoons crushed black pepper

Combine all the aromatics in a bowl and mix well. Lightly mash everything together with the back of a spoon. Alternatively, use a food processor to bring everything together with only around 2-3 pulses.

With the skin side down, rub the mixture all over the meat. Roll the slab, carefully invert the meat and secure it with butcher’s twine (and lemongrass leaves, like what I did). It’s okay if there are a few pieces of herbs that fall off, you can place it back later. Rub coarse salt all over the meat, including the skin. With a paring knife or fork, poke the skin of the meat. This will ensure a nice crackling. Transfer it to a roasting fitted with a rack and the bottom lined with foil. Place it in the refrigerator to chill overnight. This will dry the skin, which helps the crackling form.
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variation: this will easily feed two – three

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Just to be sure, pat the skin of the pork dry with a paper towel. Roast the pork for 5 hours. Afterwards, increase the temperature to 220 C, and allow the pork’s crackling to form. This will take another 30 minutes to an hour. When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit before slicing. Enjoy!
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Ahhhhh, good food.

This is also an open letter to March, the month. What I want March to do is to dispense a few extra hours, even days – whatever it takes just to delay April’s arrival. The days seem too short for comfort, and as much as typing this surprises me, I just want to put it out there that I don’t want cooking school to end. I’m just having too much fun! Too much, it seems, that I’ve been lounging under the radar for a while now.

A change of pace is great. One of the perks of being a student is that once in a blue moon you get to go on a field trip! And how many people can say that their field trip itinerary involves eating at a really great fine dining restaurant? Like I said, I’m having too much fun.
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So I’m just going to devote the rest of this space to the photos, and the little stories along the way because it’s already 1am and I have midterms in a few hours. But still, I’m here!

The Goose Station is tucked in a building and nestled in an area of Bonifacio that is more quiet, and doesn’t get a lot of action 24/7. In fact I would have had difficulty finding it if I went by my lonesome. It’s owned by the same chefs that run the school I go to and most of the staff are graduates of said school. I wouldn’t mind working at The Goose in the future, just so you know. (fingers crossed)

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Now the butter. Then the bread. That’s a mini baguette.
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For the snack we were served foie gras mousse in a flaky cone. It was followed by a lumpiang hubad served on a prawn cracker and a tuna tartare. I wish I could have had a second (and third) helping of the tartare, because it was delicious. It had a little kick of wasabi to it, which was simply perfect. I also keep on remembering how good the velvety foie was, served out of the box and in a nice cone.
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I don’t have much to say about the roasted tomato soup with parmesan foam, except that it hit the spot really well. It’s nothing spectacular…it’s just really good simple soup.
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The salad could be a meal in itself…and here lies its complexity. It’s made up of sweet potato sticks, little cubes of cured bagnet, watercress puree, salad greens, and drumroll…a piece of crisp chicken skin, a perfectly seared scallop AND an egg yolk that has been cooked sous vide (under a vacuum). Mix all of these components together – the smooth velvet liquid from the egg yolk, the crunch and salinity of the chicken skin and pork, the crisp taste of the greens and the juicy scallop… and you get a rich orchestra of flavors in your mouth. I was amazed.

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At this point the main course was well worth the wait: we were served a chicken roulade stuffed with Italian sausage and pistachio, adobo jus, green beans, smoked onion and a squash puree. All the components made sense. A big shout out to the roulade itself, which was made with (and I hope I’m right) chicken thigh, which I hold in high regard. I was a happy camper.

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To cap off our lunch, from Gourmandise patisserie, eclairs and spiked chocolate truffles. I made a mess with the truffles, and my personal favorite among the eclairs was the salted caramel.
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Here’s a parting shot of Gustare, which I didn’t expect to find just beside The Goose. It’s basically a low-profile food and pastry takeaway/commissary + kitchen lab, owned by Ginny Roces De Guzman the author of Bake Me A Cake, one of my favorite cookbooks. I didn’t get a chance to buy anything from the shop, but with products like santol bagoong…I’ll definitely be back.

In more ways than one.
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Chicken Galantina

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The fridge is still reeling from the holiday celebrations. A lot of things are still there that ideally shouldn’t be there anymore: ham glaze, ribs and the filling used for the galantina I made. I think I went overboard making sure that everything is in place, because I was being prudent and praning. Since we conveniently live near a wet market, I bought another chicken, deboned it (because it’s pretty cool to do it yourself) and repeated the process to make sure nothing is wasted. Well, there was still a small  mound of stuffing left that can’t be used to properly stuff a bird anymore so I just pan-fried and ate it with bread. It was delicious.

Is there really any difference between chicken galantina and relleno? According to the authors of Memories of Philippine Kitchens, Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, “Filipinos, on the other hand, have sometimes used the terms interchangeably, assuming that the chicken relleno is a Filipino version of Spanish galantina using ground pork, canned sausages, sweet pickles and a boiled egg to stuff the chicken.” Good stuffed chicken is good stuffed chicken.

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I’m spending the last few days of being home with a weird sense of nonchalance, like I’m just floating. It’s really uncomplicated. But I try to run to make sure I keep my sanity. Running almost every afternoon also keeps the blood pumping…that and I really don’t want feel the sluggishness as an adverse effect of eating a lot, because when I’m home, I eat sooo much.

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I don’t intend to eat less or go on a diet this year. It’ll be the death of me. I don’t really follow through with my resolutions so at one point I’ve given up on listing things “I should do but eventually forget about after the first week”. But there are a few points I plan to continue this year and it involves a lot of things I should do “more often”: go to the gym, cook, blog and interact with other bloggers. In other words, it’s about putting myself out there. And balance, let’s not forget balance.

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This is probably one dish you’ll be proud to put out there because it’s so darn purdy. It’s not really that difficult to make and it sure sounds fancy.

Once again, a happy 2013 to you all!

Chicken Galantina (serves 4 – 6)

I did away with the hard-boiled eggs but feel free to use it for your version.

adapted from Memories of Philippine Kitchens by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan

  • half a garlic clove, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced fine brunoise (1/16th inch cubes)
  • 100 grams oyster mushrooms, diced
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 2 roasted red bell peppers, diced
  • 1/4 cup sliced black olives
  • 1/8 cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 large egg
  • sliced onion rings (for roasting)
  • one 4 pound deboned chicken (try to get one that has been deboned whole, without any slits or slices along the back)
  • salt, freshly cracked black pepper, Spanish paprika for seasoning
  • melted butter
  1. In a pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the garlic, onions and carrots and saute until softened, around 3 minutes.
  2. Add the mushrooms and saute until they release their juices. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and set aside to cool completely.
  3. Add the pork, chorizo, bell pepper, olives, raisins, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, flour and egg to the cooled vegetable mixture. Using clean hands, mix until well combined.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and paprika and place on a surface breast side up. Stuff the chicken with filling. Tuck the wings under the chicken (as if it looks like it’s taking a restful nap with its “arms” behind its “head”) and truss chicken with twine.
  5. Line a roasting pan with the onion rings. Place the chicken on top. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with salt.
  6. Roast for about 1 hour and 15 – 20 minutes. Discard trussing strings and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes to allow for carryover cooking (the heat will still continue the cook the chicken even if it has been removed from the oven). Carve and serve.

 

Roasted Garlic and Tomato Risotto

I’d like to believe I’ve come a long way since my first botched attempt at risotto. If there’s one nugget of wisdom cooking school has given me (actually I’ve learned so much in three months!), it’s how to cook risotto the right way. It’s actually a simple process, albeit a little meticulous. Tasting the rice via random sampling to make sure everything is cooked al dente is essential. But it can be done. I don’t think I’ll botch it ever again.
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I never realized we had a box of arborio sitting in the pantry here at home until we used the exact same stuff in school for our kitchen lab. Hey, everything was in Italian and I was too lazy to google a translation so I never attempted to use the stuff. I’ve been known to buy and keep a lot of useless stuff, or things that I only use once. Fortunately, that isn’t the case with the arborio.
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I hit two birds with one stone today. Roasted tomatoes are a treat: sweet and tart and definitely great. I had it with pasta once and it was a home run. Today I had it with risotto and of course, another home run. Roasted garlic and tomatoes add a nice depth of flavor to the risotto, and finishing it off with parmesan is the icing on the proverbial cake. This plate of risotto will accompany a savory meat dish (preferably beef) pretty well but today I just had it as it is and I’m not complaining. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, especially when I’m given a plate of something as good as this. I had it with ice-cold coconut water, and oh man, that worked for me. It really works.
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Roasted Garlic and Tomato Risotto (serves 2)

  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 2 – 4 cups warm chicken stock
  • half an onion, minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the tomatoes and garlic
  • 1 garlic bulb, top part sliced open
  • 5 tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh basil, chopped, for garnishing
  1. Preheat oven to 180 C/ 350 F. Arrange the garlic bulb and tomatoes in a pan (optional: with a silicone mat). Drizzle generously with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Place it in the oven and allow to bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour, or until tomatoes are shriveled at the sides and the garlic has softened. When done, remove from the oven.
  3. Remove the garlic from their skins and mash with a fork. Reserve around three pieces of roasted tomato for garnish if desired.
  4. In a pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and allow to sweat. Add the rice and mix well to coat everything with the oil.
  5. Add the stock one ladle (around one cup) at a time. Allow the rice to partially absorb the liquid before adding in the next ladle. Stir everything together with a rubber spatula. Repeat the process until the rice is cooked to desired doneness (al dente).
  6. Add the garlic and tomatoes. Mash the tomatoes and mix everything together. Add the parmesan. Stir and season with salt and pepper. The risotto must still be creamy.
  7. When done, remove from heat and top with more parmesan, the roasted tomatoes and the chopped basil. Serve warm. Enjoy!

Chorizo and Roasted Tomato Pasta

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I’ve had my fair share of pasta problems. Usually, when I was starting out, the comments would be along the lines of, “It tastes good, but the pasta’s undercooked/overcooked/mushy”, or the other way around, “The pasta’s cooked perfectly, but I don’t taste anything else”. Take note, I’ve never made my own pasta from scratch before, since I don’t have the ingredients, and the equipment is exorbitantly priced.
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I take comfort in knowing that there’s always a canister of ready-to-cook pasta noodles resting inside the pantry. So far my pasta streak has been pretty good. But of course, I’m looking forward to the day I might be able to press my own pasta noodles.

Coming from a family whose conceptual definition of pasta is a chunky, saucy spaghetti, it’s a challenge getting them to try anything that digresses from their mental image. I’ve haven’t really made major breakthroughs with them yet. One time, when my uncle suggested that my vegetarian tomato pasta would taste better with condensed milk, my ego was torn in half. My mom, however, is my biggest supporter and a fan of my garlic and sardines pasta, so I usually give everything to her.
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But of course, when I saw my 12-year old cousin, who has known fried chicken and Jollibee spaghetti all his life,  devour his plate of my pasta, I had a feeling I was on to something.

Like I said, the roasted tomatoes I made are incredibly versatile. One classic preparation that I’ve always wanted to try is to add it to pasta. And the rest was history. The chorizos that I used were the plump, sweet, smoky variety, so it imparted a rich taste to the pasta oil. The tomatoes were the icing on the cake.
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Imagine yourself swirling your fork to pickup the noodles, stabbing little chunks of juicy chorizo and a piece of roasted tomato, and putting it in your mouth, slurping the pasta – the sweet flavors of chorizo and basil, the acidity of the tomato, dancing and exploding in your mouth.  Does it feel good? Are you drooling right now? I thought so.
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Chorizo and Roasted Tomato Pasta (serves 3 – 4)

If you noticed, there isn’t a lot of precise measurement involved. Just put it all together, and have fun dancing with generosity and restraint. 

  • 100 – 150 grams angel hair pasta
  • 6 – 8 pieces sweet smoky chorizo, sliced
  • roasted tomatoes
  • a few pieces of fresh basil leaves
  • around 1/4 cup olive oil, or more if desired
  • salt and pepper
  1. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water before draining. Drain the pasta and set aside.
  2. In a pan, over medium heat, cook and brown the chorizo until the fat renders. Season with salt and pepper. And the olive oil, tomatoes and the basil leaves. Allow to cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Add the reserved pasta water, then add the pasta. Mix well to coat the pasta with the seasoned oil. Add more olive oil if desired. Cook for 1 more minute, or until the water evaporates, it’s no longer soggy and the pasta has taken the sauce well.
  4. Remove from heat and serve warm. Enjoy!

Roasted Tomatoes

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Have you ever tasted something so amazing, that it left you speechless? One bite, and all you could think of, all you could say is, “delicious”?

I know this might sound like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. I don’t even want to elaborate on this too much. I made roasted tomatoes, and it tasted amazing.
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It’s crazy how something so inexpensive, homey and rustic, can be transformed into nuggets of pure pleasure. Once again, I’m not exaggerating. The process is incredibly simple – slice tomatoes in half, drizzle it with olive oil, and generously sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Absolutely no pretensions. Just leave it in the oven for a little over an hour, and true to form, the end product is more than the sum of its parts.
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One bite from these little shriveled nuggets will make anyone a believer. Can something be incredibly sweet and tart at the same time? Yes. These roasted tomatoes are just that. Biting into the pieces is a sensory overload – the tomatoes have dried and caramelized perfectly, leaving a sweet, subtle exterior. Emphasis on the caramel. Chewing on the morsels releases its full flavor – the bright, refreshing, zesty tang that marries, and also tempers the saccharine taste perfectly.

The flavor of the tomatoes speaks highly of its versatility – I can imagine doing a lot with it. My only regret? I didn’t make a larger batch. But since the market is a stone’s throw away from our house, tomorrow then.
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And I’ll let the pictures do the talking
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Roasted Tomatoes

  • 8 – 10 medium-sized tomatoes (Start with this batch and make more if you want. Trust me, you’ll want to)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or a silicone mat.
  2. Slice the tomatoes in half, lengthwise. Arrange the tomatoes on the sheet.
  3. Generously drizzle it with olive oil, but don’t go overboard. You may pour the olive oil onto a tablespoon first then drizzle it over the tomatoes.
  4. Evenly sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  5. Place the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours, or until tomatoes have crinkled but is still partially moist.
  6. When done, remove from oven. Use as desired or place it in a clean bowl and drizzle it with more olive oil, cover it with cling wrap and store it in the refrigerator. Use when ready.

Chinese Style Crispy Pork Belly

My last post has only been a few days ago, but I’ve always been accustomed to my daily routine of visiting my blog, seeing my site stats, cleaning my google reader by visiting other food blogs, that a few days without a lot of blog activity from my end seems like forever. Not really forever, a hundred years perhaps.

But I do have good reason for being strangely inactive – I have a new job! Well, like my old one, it’s only part-time, two months tops, but right now, this new responsibility keeps me busy. The workload is pretty intense despite my short stint,  so the past few days have seen me adjust and push blogging to the backseat. This is really because food blogging takes a lot of time and energy – from editing photos, encoding/editing recipes to creating the story. It’s time and energy I need to exhaust elsewhere, because I desperately need money and food blogging doesn’t really pay the bills. And man does not live off his mom alone.

Since I don’t get to channel every ounce of energy into cooking, blogging, and eating (ehem), I just really hope I can still churn out great attempts at cooking. BUT I’M HERE and I’M BLOGGING!
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Over the weekend I did get to cook pure awesomeness for my grandma’s birthday.

Let me tell you about my grandma: she’s eccentric, loud, incredibly thrifty and, dare I say it, an amazing homemaker, cook and baker. She defied the odds by proving that you don’t have to be a victim of your past and circumstance. Born into poverty and without making it past the 6th grade, together with my grandfather, she managed to build a name for herself in the direct sales industry, send her children, including my mother, to school, and pretty much pave the way for a good, secure future for her children and their children. You can’t really do that without determination and intelligence. One time my mom hinted that if grandma would have just finished her education, she would be smarter than all her children put together.

Growing up with her, she would be quick to declare my laurels to anyone who would listen. Embarrassing, really.

According to her, it’s a fact that all her grandchildren are good singers and dancers. Well, I beg to digress but that’s not really the point. My mom always tells me that she’s proud of all her grandchildren.
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Because she’s Chinese and I’m extremely subtle, I made her a Chinese-style oven baked roast pork belly with the crackling. This was a gargantuan achievement for me because Grandma (and the whole family) enjoyed it and was amazed at how the skin was so crispy like chicharon. I got this from Christine’s Recipes, a food blog dedicated to Asian cuisine.
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This recipe reminds me of two things: 1. this tastes exactly like Lutong Macau’s roast pork belly and 2. the aroma really reminds of the food courts and restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau, which makes sense because Chinese five-spice is an essential spice to have in Chinese and Macanese cuisine.

Watching the skin silently crackle and explode in the oven, from little tiny bubbles to full-blown crispy crackling, is an amazing sight. The trick here is to get the skin really dry.
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This is something best reserved for a weekend lunch with the family. In order for you to get this on the table by lunch time, start at around 9:00 AM because cooking times may vary depending on how large the pork belly is. Forget the lechon kawali, because this is so much better and less oily because it’s baked, albeit still fatty.  And trust me, this is magnificence on a plate that really deserves a place at the table.
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Chinese Style Crispy Pork Belly/Siew Yuk (adapted from Christine’s Recipes; serves 6 – 8)

  • 2.5 kg pork belly
  • 1 Tbsp Shaoxing wine, optional
  • to taste, rock salt
seasoning:
  • 6 – 7 teaspoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 4 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  1. To prepare the seasonings: Combine salt with sugar, pepper and five-spice powder well. Set aside.
  2. Use a knife to scrape away any impurities and hair. Rinse thoroughly.
  3. Blanch in boiling water for about 20 minutes, until around 70% done, and the skin is softened. I used a large wok and filled 1/4 of it with water. I carefully placed the pork belly in, and to make sure that the meat is fully submerged in water, I just added a glass or two as needed and allowed it to boil. Photobucket
  4. Drain well and wipe dry with paper towels.
  5. Place the belly on a large platter or tray, meat side up and skin side down
  6. Use a knife to make a few small slits on the meat and up the sides but not on the skin, so the seasoning will be absorbed better.
  7. Evenly brush the meat with the rice wine (optional). Let it rest for around 20 – 30 minutes.
  8. Coat the meat BUT NOT THE SKIN with seasoning mixture, otherwise, the five-spice will darken the skin.Photobucket
  9. Flip the meat so the skin is now facing upwards.
  10. Using thick kitchen towels, evenly pat the skin dry. This is important so the skin can properly crisp up.Photobucket
  11. Using a small knife with a sharp tip OR fondue forks, gently poke the skin to make little holes all over the skin. Christine recommends not exerting too much force that the holes have gone through deep into the fat. But still, you can go crazy poking holes all over. During this time, preheat the oven to 200 C/395 F if you intend to cook it immediately.Photobucket
  12. Pat dry the skin a second time, making sure that there is no visible moisture left behind. Alternatively, you can also wrap the meat, but not the skin, with foil and leave it to dry inside the refrigerator overnight. I didn’t do this but the skin was still really crispy and the meat flavorful. Leaving it overnight however, most probably intensifies the flavor.
  13. When ready to cook, place the belly in a large roasting rack lined with aluminum foil to catch the drippings. Pour around ¼ cup water onto the foil so when the drippings will fall, it will not burn.
  14. Evenly season the rind with rock salt.Photobucket
  15. Bake in the preheated oven for about one hour to one hour and ten minutes.
  16. Turn the heat dial to ‘broil’ and roast for another 20 minutes, or until the rind has sufficiently and evenly crackled. Photobucket
  17. At this point you may notice that some parts of the skin appear to have charred too much. DO NOT PANIC. You can easily remove the charred bits by scraping it with a knife.Photobucket
  18. When done, remove from oven, chop it into your desired serving sizes – cubes or strips and serve warm with rice, with soy sauce and vinegar on the side. Enjoy!