Tamal Ray’s recipe for pork belly sandwiches with apple and fennel slaw

Years ago, while pottering around a south London market with friends, I had one of the best sandwiches of my life: a succulent filling of twice-cooked pork, first barbecued, then fried with spices. It was so good that, after seeing my friends off at the station, I circled back to get another. Today’s slow-cooker recipe is an homage to that hallowed sandwich, which I still think about often.

Pork belly sandwiches with apple and fennel slaw

Prep 10 min
Cook 8 hr+ (slow cooker), or roast 1 hr 40 min
Serves 4

1kg boneless pork belly slices
½ tsp table salt
600ml apple juice (not from concentrate)
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp fennel seeds, ground
2 tbsp rosemary leaves, finely chopped
8 chunky slices bread
Mustard, to serve (optional)

For the slaw
2 apples
2 fennel bulbs
Salt and black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon

In the morning, cut the pork belly into chunky squares, then put them in a slow cooker with 300ml water, the salt, and the apple and lemon juice, and leave on low for the day. To cook the pork without a slow cooker, put it in a roasting dish with the salt, apple juice and lemon juice (ie, no water), then cover with foil and roast for an hour and a half in a 220C (200C fan)/425F/gas 7 oven.

Make the slaw just before serving. Core the apples and remove the tough stalks and outer layers from the fennel bulbs. Thinly slice the apples and fennel, on a mandoline, ideally, or on a coarse grater, then season with salt, pepper and the lemon juice.

To finish the pork, transfer the meat and all its juices to a large pan on a medium-low heat. Break up the meat with a fork, much as you would for pulled pork, then add the ground fennel seeds and rosemary, and cook, stirring, for five to six minutes, until the juices reduce right down and turn jammy. (If you’ve roasted the meat in the oven, it may take a bit longer to reduce the liquid sufficiently.)

To assemble, lightly toast the bread, then spoon a generous helping of the pork and slaw on top of four slices. Drizzle over your favourite mustard, if using, top with the remaining four slices of toast and serve.