When we talk about pork belly, we’re— as the name may imply—talking about the flesh from the belly area of a pig. Perhaps more commonly in America, we see pork belly sliced and cured, which is what bacon is. If that cut is left whole or just cut into smaller chunks, pork belly is a versatile ingredient that is often used in Asian dishes and beyond. From being the protein in a nice bowl of ramen to being a central ingredient in Korean grilling culture, pork belly is a versatile ingredient worth checking out.
Defining Pork Belly
We get pork belly from the underside of a pig, near its loin, near where you’d get spareribs as well. It’s an inexpensive cut of fatty meat. If you were to get a whole piece of belly, sold as a long piece with the skin still on, it’d weigh about 12 pounds. However, it’s typical for the skin to be removed, the flesh salted, then cured and smoked, resulting in delicious bacon. This is a similar process for making Italian pancetta, although that isn’t smoked. Typically, pork bellies are often seen in European and Asian cuisines.
How to Prepare Pork Belly
Pork belly is filled with connective tissue that must be broken down to be enjoyed. This is why it’s often slow-cooked, resulting in a tender chew. If you want to crisp it up, score it and then sear or broil it towards the end of that slow cook. A basic spice blend or even just some salt is enough to bring out the flavor. You can do a dry brine by letting it sit uncovered in the fridge for a few hours or even overnight while covered in salt, which dries out the skin and makes it get nice and crispy. When it’s cooked, the juices ought to run clear, and you should be able to easily pierce it with a knife.
What’s the Taste?
Similar to the loin, the actual meat of pork belly has a milder taste. What gives it the rich flavor we all associated with a nice hunk of belly is the fat that breaks down, covering the meat and giving it its distinctive flavor. It’s important to think about how to contrast that fat when cooking. Brighter ingredients such as citrus, herbs, scallions, cucumber, lettuce, or other fresh produce can do a lot to offset some of that heaviness.
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