Pork Belly with Caramel Vinegar and…Hangi Time

When I was very young the house next door to us was sold and we had high levels of anticipation as to who would be our new neighbours.

One day they arrived.  And it wasn’t a subtle arrival either.  They were a family of six children, three boys and three girls.  They were very loud and liked to yell and scream or hop on their dirt bikes and tear up the backyard.  Their father was a bricklayer and he employed a lot of large, tattooed Maoris and after work it was, ‘everyone back to my place’ where they immersed themselves in swearing, cigarettes and long-neck bottles of beer.

Crispy Pork Belly with Caramel Vinegar

They kept chickens but also a rooster and housed them in the garage.  They started a breeding program and when they thought the chicks were ready to hatch they took the eggs from the nests and put them in the warmer drawer of their oven.  None of the chicks survived.

The father and his employees set about transforming the house and this involved covering the entire property in either bricks, concrete or tiles.  He liked to dye the concrete different colours and so the path from the laundry to the clothes line was concreted in green and white swirls.

When the last bit of brick, tile and concrete had been laid he brought his workers around one Saturday and they started digging in the only remaining patch of green, an enormous hole.  I was very excited because I was sure they was putting in a swimming pool.  But the huge hole wasn’t for a pool, it was for an underground oven – a Maori Hangi.

When they were satisfied that the hole was big enough and deep enough they heated stones until they were red hot then put them at the bottom of the pit.  Then they lowered a wire basket containing an assortment of food including pork, chicken, lamb and root vegetables.  They covered the food with a damp cloth then covered the hole with soil.  The cooking process went on all day.  In the evening they had a big party.  The soil was dug up again and the cloth removed then the wire basket brought up and they feasted on this slow cooked food.

Preparing the pork belly

Although I wasn’t invited to this party I have had food from a Hangi and it was a long time ago.  I remember I didn’t like it because I thought the food had a soil or dirt flavour to it.

A few days later they filled in their hole in the ground, put the house on the market and moved on.

We didn’t see them again but I did hear the father went to prison for a few days for using obscene language in front of a police officer.

Meat from a Hangi is apparently wonderful because it is steamed and slow cooked until it becomes really tender.  If you like tender meat that falls off the bone but do not feel like digging an enormous pit in your backyard, then Bill Granger’s slow roasted pork belly is an excellent substitute.

Crispy Pork Belly with Caramel Vinegar

Serves:  6

Degree of Difficulty:  3/5- because of all the carry-on with pulling this in and out of the oven – but very worth it!

Cost:  I think pork belly is a fantastic cut of meat but I’m keeping it on the down-low because if word spreads, this economical cut of meat will shoot up in price just like what’s happened to the humble lamb shank.

  • 1.5kg boned pork belly with skin
  • 1 tbs olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
  • 1/2 cup (100ml) firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) red wine vinegar
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 1 cup (250ml) chicken stock
  • 4 strips pared rind and juice of 1 orange
  • steamed rice and bok choy to serve
  • 1 long red chilli, seeds removed, thinly sliced

Score the pork skin in a criss-cross pattern with a sharp knife.  Rub 2 tbs sea salt into skin Set aside for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 220C and drizzle a large roasting pan with oil.  Wipe salt off the pork with paper towel and dry well.  Place pork in the pan skin-side down, drizzle with a little oil and season.  Roast for 30 mins, then reduce oven to 190C and roast for another 1 hour.  Loosely cover with foil and roast for a further 30 minutes until pork is tender.  Remove foil and carefully turn meat, then return to oven for a further 20 minutes or until skin is crisp.  Remove, cover loosely with foil and leave to rest for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the sugar, vinegar and spices in a small saucepan.  Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves, then increase heat to medium-high and bring to the boil.  Simmer oven medium-low heat for 7-8 minutes until syrupy, then stir in stock and simmer for 5 minutes until slightly reduced.  Add orange juice and rind, then simmer for 15 minutes or until thick and syrupy.  Season to taste.  (I find this only yields a miserable amount of caramel vinegar so I make double quantity). 

Slice the pork and serve on rice and bok choy.  Drizzle with some of the caramel vinegar and garnish with chilli.

This recipe is from the June 2008 issue of Delicious Magazine.  Recipe by Bill Granger from his restaurant in Shichirigahama, Japan.

And…I’ve been nominated in the Sydney Writer’s Group award, Best Blog 2012.  There is also a People’s Choice Award.  If you could take the time to vote for me I’ll be your best friend!

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  1. I feel like even if it tasted NOTHING like soil, I would still imagine that it did. Totally a psychosomatic thing.

  2. Pethaps they bought our last house because our entire backyard (small city yard) was paved in pink and green checkered concrete tiles!
    That pork looks seriously delicious Charlie. I’ve never attempted to cook pork belly, mainly because I’d be too afraid of eating all the crispy skin in one sitting!
    Hope you have a wonderful weekend.
    Eva http://kitcheninspirations.wordpress.com

  3. I have to admit that I have never had pork belly.

  4. I lived on the north island of NZ up in the Bay of Islands for a couple of years and ate food cooked in a hangi a few times. I never thought it tasted like dirt. 🙂

    I love, love, love pork belly and I think you should keep it quiet or we’ll never be able to afford it. I buy pork belly and 2 extra pieces of pork rind to cook with it because frankly my husband thinks he needs extra crackling and I think I can see his arteries seize up.

  5. I’ve never had pork belly. The story about the family was quite entertaining. Would love to have seen photos of the yard and that backyard cookery. And the food. I’ve never heard of such a cooking process.

  6. I remember reading about the hangi when we were cooking food from New Zealand. It’s just fascinating to me (not enough so to dig a big hole in my yard though). This recipe does sound delicious. I had pork belly for the first time a few months ago and wow, is it good! 🙂

  7. Funny story about your neighbors! Looking back when I was a kid, I can remember some oddballs in the neighborhood too. Next door was a family named Peed. The father was Kermit Peed. I kid you not. You can imagine how those kids got teased.
    Anyway…I do love pork belly, but have never cooked it at home. This might be the recipe to try!

  8. Pork belly with is oh so good when it crisps up and add the caramel vinegar…I’m happy man.

  9. The pork belly looks delicious, but the caramel vinegar sounds awesome.

  10. I love the story! So much work is put into cooking!
    It’s so interesting how food is not just about ingesting what your body needs. It’s cultural, social interactions, TASTE, art, visual experiences…..
    Your version looks wonderful 🙂

  11. I have had pork belly out but never tried it myself. I have to admit that I might be better at painting the tiles than making this dish. If you didn’t live so darn far away we would have a great bartering system:)

  12. We never had exciting neighbours growing up – darn!
    I also LOVE pork belly – your recipe sounds heavenly.
    🙂 Mandy

  13. The pork belly with the sauce sounds incredible! Yummy!!!

  14. What a gorgeous plate of food! I’ve never had pork belly, I’m thinking I will have to look for it.

    Wasn’t sure where you were going with that story, I was cringing a little hoping they weren’t lowering something awful into that oven hole in the ground. LOL

  15. What a great dish! I love pork belly!

  16. What a wonderful post… Reading this reminded me of my childhood and our neighbors…
    Very interesting recipe!!!

  17. Hi,
    When we went to Fiji for a holiday we were lucky enough to be invited to a lovo, which is the same as the NZ hangi, food cooked in an earth oven. The bottom of the pit was covered in heat resistant stones and the food was wrapped in banana leaves, before it was buried, the food was fantastic it just melted in your mouth, I loved it.

    Your pork belly dish looks delicious, I love pork, my Husband also loves extra crackling. 🙂

  18. That was one beautiful piece of meat, Charlie. I’ve yet to find one like that. Whatever I have found is already cut into small pieces. I think I’ll talk to a butcher and see. Your recipe has inspired me — as well as made me very thankful for my neighbors. 🙂

  19. wow, I wouldn’t even know where to begin with this dish! nice work!

  20. Magnificent pork belly, Charlie! And congratulations on the nomination – I’m not surprised at all, your blog is always such a joy to read!! 🙂 xx

  21. Ha, awesome neighbours 😀 I never understood why people would spend so long on a house and then just move on again.

    Love the look of the pork belly… mmmm, crackling 😀

  22. mmmm…. pork belly… *drool*

  23. Unfortunately, I think the secret has already got out about pork belly. I’ve seen it on menus for $42.00, and that was for an entree! Even at some butchers is varies between $15.00 to $25.00 a kilo, but find a Chinese butcher locally and it is usually a lot cheaper. We have some good ones near us, but I’m keeping them a secret :)).

    Your recipe looks fantastic and I’m sure tastes even better.

  24. Oh lordy, that pork looks just wunnerful. If I’d known you were cooking that I’d have been hanging around your house for sure. 🙂

  25. LOL, I will definitely stick with Bill Granger’s slow cooked pork belly – I can’t imagine I’ll be hosting a hangi anytime soon. Looks delish!

  26. What an evocative story. I love food cooked in what you call a “hangi” (here in Mexico we call the a “pib”). They really do produce the moistest, tastiest meats.

    And your pork belly looks fabulous!

  27. Meat from a hangi might be lovely, but I suspect having those neighbours prepare it would have detracted from the experience! Thank goodness they eventually left.

  28. That looks delicious!!! You always meet the weirdeset people (or live next to them…)

  29. That pork belly looks completely delicious! I love working with cheaper cuts of meat… you get such value for money.

  30. My favourite meat in the world! And you’ve cooked it so beautifully too, yummo!

  31. That looks like a lovely dish and a great story to go with it. I think the Scandinavians bury herring in the ground and I once read a piece about bread being baked underground, again somewhere which had thermal heat I think. I would love to go to a party like that and I would brave the soil taste for sure 🙂

  32. Oh I love love love slow-cooked meat. The way the meat falls of the bone is just amazing. Yum!

  33. Slowly cooked meat for the whole day in a big pit sounds really amazing, but your pork belly is equally good I’m sure. I haven’t had roast pork for ages. I love the crispy skin!

  34. Pit barbecued pork is extremely popular in the southern U.S. I don’t really know how it’s done, but I know it is delicious!

  35. Your recipe made me think of some of the cooking methods I’ve been introduced to in Hawaii. I think there are some definite parallels in cooking in deep pits. For some reason I’m never very fond of the outcome. I think my reaction is mostly because of what I imagine…coming up out of the earth or something nonsensical like that. But I’m fascinated with your story of the neighbors going to such lengths to add personalized and unique colors to the house, obviously creating something a bit unique to an individual’s tastes…and then moving on. I wonder if the neighbors who followed were inclined to change everything! Great story, Charlie. You have a good memory for the details! Debra

  36. WOW Charlie you really have had some interesting neighbours hehe but I think this large family are the type of neighbours that I would stay away from 😀 OOO slow cooked meals are so comforting hehe and perfect for the weather now ~
    Have already voted 😀

  37. This pork looks really fabulous, soo crispy. The sweet and sour flavours sound delicious. Your story about your neighbours is wonderful. GG

  38. I’m working backwards today to catch up! This is hysterical.. my goodness you’ve had a wild and interesting life! I can just imagine having neighbors like that.. what a fascination for a young child! I love your pork belly recipe.. and prefer it to cooking in a pit!! xo

  39. I had pork belly for the first time a couple of weeks ago and while I’m not a pork fan in general, I was impressed! Hope you had a great weekend !

  40. Do you know a friend from mine also got arrested for swearing in front of a police officer in NZ! I guess it must be more common than thought! 🙂

  41. Maori Hangi… sounds like an interessting way of cooking meat. Do they marinate the meat or season it? I can imagine that cooked ina natural way, it most taste differently but the meat must be full of flavoures. ok I have never had mud on my meat, but u know charlie, I am always open for new foods and cooking techniques. 😉

    • hotlyspiced says:

      I’m sure some people would marinate the meat but I don’t think my neighbours did. The mud doesn’t touch the food as the food is wrapped traditionally in banana leaves or in foil. xx

  42. Haha Dodgy neighbours. We had some which would threaten other neighbours, do wheelies up and down the street and smash up their own car with a computer keyboard 😐 Luckily we found out who the agent was and they were evicted:)
    The pork belly looks so tasty!! I like the star anise on top…don’t think I have ever tried something cooked with them:(

  43. Haha I am planning a roadtrip around New Zealand later this year and we’ve included a stopover at Rotorua for a hangi feast. I hope that even if the meat isn’t all that good, that it would be a fantastic experience nevertheless 🙂

  44. this looks incredible! I’ve just picked up some pork so I’m bookmarking this recipe!

  45. That pork belly looks delicious… unfortunately it is not a cut we find here very easily… oh, we are also going towards summer and bikinis so perhaps I should focus on the greens… not likely I fear…

  46. Hmmm I see you cook it skin side down. Maybe that’s where I’ve be going wrong. I shall give this method a go next time. Thanks Charlie


  1. […] the richness of the pork.  I’ve blogged this recipe before and you can find the recipe here.  There’s a chance I overcooked the beans but that’s only because we were outside on […]

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