Yesterday I wrote about the wonderful mutton ribs – or pinnekjøtt – a staple on the Norwegian Christmas table. Even more popular is the svineribbe –or pork belly, as we lovingly know it in this country. In Norway, the pork belly and pork ribs played an important role even before Christianity. In Nordic mythology, pieces of ribs from the pig Sæhrimnir were eaten daily. Sæhrimnir is the pig in Valhalla, who was killed and eaten every day when Odin invited people to feast. Snorre Sturlassons’ tale “Edda” details that even though Sæhrimnir was eaten during the day, it became whole and alive again at night. We can find writings about the preparation of svineribbe all the way back to the 18th century, when the traditions of curing and drying meat started to slowly change throughout the Norwegian farmland. The appearance of ovens with stove tops also began to make it possible to cook food in the oven. Traditionally the pigs were slaughtered in the late fall, which made it possible to preserve the meat fresh if it was cold enough, until Christmas came around. Since the meat was not cured, the pork was typically consumed right away during the holidays, up to and including New Years Eve.
Few things are more mouthwatering than a perfectly cooked pork belly, with its crispy rind and juicy flesh, the true meaning of decadence. Around 60% of Norwegian households enjoy pork belly for Christmas, more popular in the south-eastern part of Norway. In my house we only started adding svineribbe to our meal when I was in my teens, but is now an important part of the plate in our family. Yearly we see Norwegian magazines and chefs contribute their “secret” to a crispy rind (i.e. the fat on the top has to be present when you buy the rib side), and while there are many wives tales and tricks invented every year, it really isn’t that difficult. While I stick with the traditional sides of boiled potatoes, sauerkraut, and mashed rutabaga w/ lingonberry sauce, people also choose to add sauteed apples and figs, while making a delicious sauce from juniper berries, the Norwegian “gjetost”(brown cheese made from the whey of goat milk), and red wine. The latter is a more modern approach to preparing the pork belly but is wildly popular. There are several types of the pork belly you can choose from. What we call the ‘thin ribs’ or tynnribbe, is the part nearest the back, this comes without the rib in, requiring a shorter cooking time. The other part is the middle rib or midtribbe, which includes the rib and part of the back bone. This part is usually a bit uneven in size and requires a longer cooking time. Lastly, we have the family rib, or familieribbe, which is the same as midtribbebut without the backbone. It does include the rib however, and is easier to cook and requires a longer cooking time than the thin ribs. Usually this is the kind to pick if you want more “bang for the buck”, i.e. more meat.
Here’s a recipe for a perfect SVINERIBBE, stay tuned for recipes for all the tasty side dishes that accompany this amazing meat, coming up tomorrow!
about a 5 lb-piece pork belly
kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
About 2 days before, score the fat side and rub with a generous amount of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. make sure you get the seasoning all the way in between the fat and bones/meat. Cover with aluminum and place in fridge until ready to cook.
Preheat the oven to 450F. Place the rib in a roasting pan, placing the belly on top of a plate or a foundation that lets the rib slightly bend into a “u”. This allows for the fat to render off easily and avoid collecting at the top of the rib, aiding in a crispier crust. Pour about a cup or two of boiling hot water in the bottom of the pan, cover with aluminum foil and place in the middle of the oven. Cook for about 45 minutes, then remove foil, and reduce to about 400F. To aid in the crispy formation of the rib ,you can place the pan higher up in the oven. Cook for another 1.5-2.5. hours, depending on the type of rib you get (shorter for thin ribs and longer for family/middle rib). If by the end of the cooking time you still don’t have a super crispy top, you can increase the heat again to 500F or place the pork in the broiler, but be sure to pay close attention to it to avoid it from burning (you can also cover the juicy meat with aluminum foil to avoid it from overcooking). Let the pork belly rest about 20 minutes after removing it from the oven before slicing and serving. This allows for the juices to remain in and produces juicy, tasty meat!