Crazy crispy traditional Norwegian “Ribbe” pork belly

Ribbe, or juleribbe is one of the most iconic dishes in the traditional Norwegian kitchen. Made from pork belly, the goal is the juiciest meat with the crispiest rind. This method is by far the easiest way of getting the most spectacularly crispy rind and mouth watering meat.

The classic Norwegian Christmas dinner

If you are making the classic Norwegian Christmas dinner, start with the red cabbage right after you put the meat into the oven, then start with the potatoes immediately after the meat has come out of the oven, continue with the gravy and veg.

For 4 people you need

  • 1-1.2 kg pork belly (recipe below)
  • 500 ml gravy (recipe below)
  • 1-1.2 kg boiled potatoes
  • 400 g butter steamed brussels sprouts
  • 400 g butter steamed carrots
  • one batch red cabbage

We serve this with a strong home brewed, caramelly Vossaøl, and a shot (or two!) barrel aged Norwegian Aquavit. And perhaps Risalamande for dessert 😀

I shit you not – every single year, without failing, recipe upon recipe is released in the promise of the perfect crispy rind. Hobby cooks and professional chefs alike fuss over minute details, and arguing which method produces the superior result; you must bake it up side down, then flip it half way through. Whaaat?? You must baste it every so often, and roast it for 1 hour per kilo; no, you must cover in foil and braise it. Are you mad? The key to the crispiest rind is hand fed, pampered organic pig, from an obscure, ancient Norse pig breed only found in the north-eastern corner of Hakkadalen…and it goes on, and on, and on….and it’s sooo labor intensive!

Bullshit.

I’m a lazy SOB, and if I can get superior results with a fraction of the work, then I’ll fuckin do exactly that. I have used this exact method unchanged since 2010, and it has consistently delivered perfect results Every. Single. Time.

This method is really simple, and it is based on rock solid kitchen science. It is, as we say in Norway, “Idiot proof” regardless of how big or small your pork belly is.

Pro tip: The weight of the meat does not matter at all, it’s how thick it is that matters. As thermal physics dictates, a thick piece of pork belly will need longer time to reach the same core temperature as a thinner piece.

I will now tell you why this works, but feel free to scroll down to the actual, and very easy recipe and just cook the damned thing if you prefer 😉

The goal:

  • Super juicy meat: you need low and slow heat
  • Crisp rind: you need high heat

Aha!

This first clue is that you need to give the pork belly two different heat treatments, with two different goals; first low and slow to make it juicy, then crank up the heat to get the rind crisp.

Cool.

But how do you know how long at how low heat, and when to crank it up? Well, that’s damned easy too. Because we already know that the number one key to juicy meat is core temperature.

It is a scientific fact that the lower core temperature, the juicier the meat. But we certainly don’t want to eat raw pork; it simply isn’t safe. The lowest recommended core temperature for pork is 62C/145F.

That is what we’re going for. Because when you crank up the heat again, the temperature will continue to rise, and by the time the rind has crisped up, the core temp will read somewhere around 70C/158F.

But to produce an even juicier result, we use a little bit more kitchen science: a process called osmosis. Feel free read up on it on Serious Eats , but the short version is that salt helps to retain much more juice in the meat.

We also know that key to getting a crisp rind is a humid heat treatment of the rind; that’s why some prescribe frequent basting throughout the roasting. And finally, we need a killer gravy.

What it all boils down to is this super simple method:

  • Salt the meat the day before to initiate the process of osmosis
  • Braise the meat with aromatic vegetables and herbs until you reach a core temperature of 60C/140F.
  • You will use the braising liquid for your killer gravy, so that stock makes itself.
  • Remove from the oven, and crank up the heat
  • When the oven has reached its new temperature, remove the foil, and roast until the rind is crispy.
  • Remove from the oven, and set to rest, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes. This will both let the juices settle, and let the temperature of the meat come down to something that’s actually possible to put in your mouth.

See how easy that was? Ready to cook? Let’s go!

Ingredients

For the pork belly

  • 1-1.2 kg pork belly (tynnribbe)
  • fine sea salt
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 large carrot
  • 2 cellery stalks
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 4 bay leafs
  • 500 ml low hop ale (English bitter for example)

The gravy

  • Braising liquid from the pork
  • 2 tbsp real butter
  • 2 tbsp flour

Method

I remember making this when I lived in Canada, and finding the right cut of meat was hell, so here’s my best explanation:

Though a similar dish is popular in the rest of Scandinavia, Norwegians primarily use the bone-in pork belly (lower parts in the pic) rather than the bone-in pork roast (upper parts in the pic) that they use in Denmark for their “flæskesteg” for example.

You are specifically after the lower parts of the rib cage called “tynnribbe” in Norwegian, not the thick, meaty part near the back. I think this cut is superior, simply because you maximize the amount of earth-shattering crispy rind.

That entire piece is sold as “familieribbe” in Norway. I think it’s a spectacularly bad idea, because there’s such a tremendous difference in thickness it’ll be impossible to get right; either the thick part will be undercooked, or the thin part will be dry as fuck.

So look for a piece with good marbling, relatively even thickness, not too big areas of thick fat layers, and you want approximately 1 cm fat layer right underneath the skin. You definitely also want the section with bones, because you’re also making a stock.

Please also make sure the pig is bred organically. Pig farming, even in Norway, is one of the foulest meat industries that exist, so buying organic at least ensures the pig was well taken care of, before landing on your plate. I think we owe them that much.

Lea and I chomped down 1.2 kg pork belly over two dinners. That was a lot of meat for us. I would say that for normal eaters, I would recommend 250 g per person (remember there is bone in this too), and for big eaters around 300 g. Definitely not more if you also plan to serve a dessert. Like our Risalamande

Now, finally…

With a very sharp knife, score the skin. Make sure to cut all the way through the skin, but not into the meat beneath the layer of fat. You can also ask your butcher to do this.

The scoring is important for two reasons:

  1. it helps rendering out the fat, and
  2. it makes it easier to cut the meat for serving.

Some make a square pattern, some make super thin stripes, and some make a diamond pattern. The diamond pattern is my least favorite, cause it makes it harder to cut the meat when you’re ready to serve; you’ll be cutting in between the scoring.

Next, season liberally with fine sea salt; remember this is a big piece of meat! Rub it well into the crevices of the scoring, and on all sides of the meat. Put on a plate, and set uncovered in the fridge overnight.

The next day, coarsely chop the onion, bash the garlic, and cut the rest of the veg into large-ish pieces. Put everything in a big roasting tray, pour over the beer, and put the pork belly on top.

Make sure that the pork belly does not sag down in the middle, or else fat and meat juices will pool here and make it impossible to get crisp rind. Rearrange the pork belly, supporting it underneath with the veg pieces so that it’s relatively flat, or gently slopes down in the sides so that fat and juices can be drained.

Insert a thermometer probe into the thickest part of the meat, making sure you do not hit bones. Cover everything with aluminium foil.

Put into the oven, and roast at 150C/300F until your core temperature reads 60C/140F, approx. 1-1.5 hours depending on thickness.

Remove the pork belly from the oven, crank up the heat to 230-240C (Google it to convert to Farenheit). When the oven has come to the new temperature, remove the foil and put the pork belly back in. If you have a convection oven, use convection.

Note that if your oven has uneven heat, it may be a good idea to rotate the tray after 15 every minutes to avoid burning and/or chewy rind. This is also a good point to make sure you still have sufficient liquid left in your roasting tray. Remember this is for your gravy, so refill a bit with warm water if running low. Don’t add too much water though, or you’ll get a watered out gravy.

The whole crisping process should take 25-40 minutes – this really depends on your oven, so pay close attention the first time you make it.

When you are happy with the way it looks, remove from the oven, transfer to a cutting board, and let sit at room temperature, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes.

I know this long rest will raise an eyebrow or two, but consider this: the meat will have a temperature of around 70C when it comes out of the oven. Fat has a very high heat capacity, so if you eat it too soon, you’ll have to blow on it to avoid blisters.

As the meat sits, the temp will come down to 55-60C, which is an actual enjoyable temperature for meat. The meat juices will also get time to redistribute evenly throughout the meat, so that when you cut into it, you will hardly loose a drop of juice.

The beer gravy is made like this:

Transfer the braising liquid to a taller, narrow heat proof container. Skim off the rendered fat. Reserve for other cooking – or for the red cabbage if making.

The last few drops of fat can be tricky to skim, so plop a handful ice cubes into the container. This will cause the fat to solidify instantly, and will be super easy to lift out. Failing to remove the fat will cause the gravy to split.

Your container with braising liquid should measure 0.4 liters. If too little, add more water.

In a small sauce pan, melt the butter, then stir in the flour. Gradually whisk in the braising liquid, making sure lumps does not form. You should end up with a nice, not too thick gravy. Adjust with water to personal preference.

11 Comments

  1. Your rough language, using the “F” word, was very distracting and unnecessary! The recipe and information was useful and interesting. In the USA, that word is still considered vulgar to many!

    • Hi Karen!
      You know, if you have a problem with how I find it natural to express myself, feel free to use your scroll wheel, and scroll on to one of the, literally, hundreds of thousands of blogs with bland language, and equally bland food 🙂

      In the mean time, I will continue to express myself in whichever way I choose to on my own goddamned blog.

      Life is too fucking short to deny oneself access to the most versatile word in the entire English language.

      Bless your heart, Karen 🙂

    • Hi Karen!
      You must be not very well read, as you have clearly not heard the saying about sailors, and their vocabulary and eloquence.

      Feel free to find yourself one of the hundreds of thousands of blogs on the internet with bland food, and bland fucking language 🙂

      PS: As English is my second language, IMAGINE what I can do in Norwegian!

  2. oops! hit send toooo fast without editing LOL…”F word” and I’m cooking this recipe today. I talked with my Hawaii butcher and he cut it specially per my instructions and your recommendations. I will let you know how it goes!

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