Doing Pork Belly Right

Brooke Newberry
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Diners got to know pork belly a little better in 2011, and it’s definitely still coursing through our veins. How does this rich cut continually book menus?  Bacon, the American Godfather, begins at pork belly – bacon is just pork belly that hasn’t been cured yet.  Bacon’s humble beginning has become a poster child for excessively rich cuisine.  Comfort food and chefs’ whole-animal projects only secure pork belly’s place in the market. We can kindly blame Momofuku’s chef and Anthony Bourdain’s BFF, David Chang, for the pork belly explosion.  He famously started making gua bao, a traditional Taiwanese pork belly bun sandwich.  People went nuts for it.  Suddenly, pork belly was relevant, and then everyone was tucking the belly in buns.  We’re dining in a moment where the expertness of fat is popular chef sport, and we’re happy to watch. 

This is a boneless cut of fatty meat that comes from the underside of the pig or hog.  The meat from the abdominal region is usually cut into long thick sections of pure white fat saddled next to blushing meat.  Even though pork belly is enveloped in considerably unrefined fat, when cooked correctly the cut can stand up to premium cuts of meat.  Chefs turn up excited to experiment with it because they can take something conventional and turn it into culinary genius.  This is the kind of challenge they live for and the kind we want to eat for dinner. 

The good thing is – pork belly is relatively cheap and impressive.  This cut has actually been served worldwide for years because of its affordability and satiating power – it just wasn’t celebrated on menus like it is today because of its lack of sophistication and prestige.  See our tips below for getting started on preparing your own cut.

Where to get it:

Find your local butcher.  If you can find it, purchase belly butchered from a heritage pig. These are breeds that were raised on small farms and have lived as part of the natural cycle of the farm under no cramped quarters. Ask for pieces of a uniform thickness and even distribution of fat and lean – it will cook more evenly this way.  It should be a layer of meat, topped with a layer of fat, on top of a layer of meat, topped with fat.  Find a piece large enough for your purpose – it’s better to use a thicker piece over a thin one. 

How to properly crisp the skin:

Crispy brown-skinned outside and melt-in-your-mouth swiney succulence on the inside, pork belly’s flavor should ooze in your mouth.  Dried out pieces of top-layer skin or a compost piece of fat on a plate is far from delicious. The outer crispy layer of skin should crackle and melt in the mouth – this is a critical part of the pork belly experience. 

After you’ve slow-cooked your meat (braise it, slow-roast it, stew it), rest it in the fridge overnight. Cut it into rectangular portions. Heat a skillet to medium-high and sear the pork belly skin side down until the skin is extremely brown and crisp.  Don’t turn the pork while searing – the skin will tear and the pork will not crisp correctly. If you must, gently lift a corner up with tongs to check the coloring. When the skin side is browned, turn the belly over and cook until meat is warmed through.  Allow the meat to rest for 5-10 minutes.

Check out Gordon Ramsey’s video recipe for “Pressed Belly of Pork,” where the belly is rested atop mounds of garlic and gets a gorgeous and extra crispy skin.


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