How to Cook Pork Belly Like a Pro
Go ahead, pig out.
Pork belly, the rich, boneless piece of meat around the midsection of a pig, has been considered a delicacy in many Asian countries for decades. Only in recent history has this cut hit its stride in the States. But now, it's a mainstay on restaurant menus and at butcher counters — and even home cooks are welcoming the cut of pork into their home and trying their hand at it for dinner parties, weeknight dinners, and more.
What Is Pork Belly?
Belly is one of four primal cuts of pork — the others are shoulder, loin, and leg — and its where bacon comes from, once cured, smoked, and sliced.
"Pork belly is an awesome cut of meat and is incredibly versatile," says Jared Wentworth, executive chef of The Dining Room and The Bar at Moody Tongue Brewing Company in Chicago, Illinois. "No other meat can be used in as many ways applications as the belly of a pig."
The decadent fat to meat ratio of pork belly means it tastes luxurious, but can be somewhat intimidating to prepare since it's so different in consistency than a tenderloin or chicken breast.
"Pork belly has a unique umami element to it, and if cooked correctly, it almost melts in your mouth. It blends well with an array of other flavors or can hold its own as the star ingredient of a dish," says Cesar Herrera, chef instructor at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in McHenry, Illinois.
So how do you achieve those mouthwatering results? Go whole-hog with these three chef-approved strategies to cook pork belly to perfection.
How to Cook Pork Belly
"You want to slowly cook the pork belly [just like Chef John's Caramel Pork Belly] so it gets very tender and the fat has time to render to baste the meat as it cooks," Herrera says. "This is a tough muscle so it needs a longer cooking time at low heat to breakdown the tough tissue." To slow roast pork belly:
To prepare pork belly for roasting, use a sharp knife to make several parallel cuts across the skin to score the skin and fat, but not the meat.
Rub the pork with kosher salt and your favorite spice blend.
Roast at 300° F for three to four hours, depending on size, until meat reaches an internal temperature of 165° F and skin begins to crisp.
Again, low and slow for the win. Here's how to braise pork belly:
To prepare pork belly for braising, use a sharp knife to make several parallel cuts across the skin to score the skin and fat, but not the meat.
Sear skin in a hot skillet.
Transfer to a Dutch oven filled with soy broth, pork stock, and Asian flavorings such as lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and chili or pork stock, a splash of white wine, and mirepoix (diced onion, carrots, and celery). Or follow this Chinese Braised Pork Belly recipe from cookbook author Andrea Nguyen.
Simmer until tender, about 1 hour and 45 minutes for a 3-pound piece.
"When finished, the belly can be enjoyed over rice or in your favorite ramen recipe," Wentworth says.
Wentworth claims that this is likely his favorite way to cook this cut since the results are so succulent. "Once you finish and cool the confit pork belly, the meat is very succulent and you can do almost anything with it. Sauté small diced pieces, grill strips … the sky's the limit," he says.
To confit pork belly:
Brine the pork belly in water, salt, sugar, and spices in a zip-top bag placed in a baking dish for six hours.
Remove the pork belly from the bag, rinse off any big pieces of spice, and pat dry with a clean towel.
Place pork belly skin-side down in a large baking dish.
Fill baking dish with enough melted pork fat or lard to cover the pork belly by ½ inch. Cover dish with foil.
Bake at 300° F until tender, about 4 hours for a 3-pound piece.
Allow the pork to cool slightly, then remove the fat.
Place the cooled pork belly between two sheet pans (with cans or some weight on top) to compress the meat. Store in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
Remove the pork from between the sheet pans and prepare as desired.
Chef Tips for Cooking Pork Belly
Don't rush it. "Patience is key for the best results with pork belly, so I recommend making it a day or two before you are going to serve it as part of a meal," Wentworth says. "The biggest mistake I encounter at home or in the restaurant is trying to speed up the cooking process, which almost always results in a tough piece of belly."
Get creative. "There are few rules about where you utilize well-cooked pork belly. Whether it's the protein in a heaping bowl of ramen, an addition to a simple bean salad, or at the center of plate star at a fine dining restaurant, its boundaries are endless," Herrera says.
Guess and test. "I believe there are really no bad ways to cook pork belly. True, I prefer slow methods of cooking [like those described above], to faster methods, such as grilling or sautéing if you'," Wentworth says. "But with experimentation you might find alternate ways to cook belly that suit your preferences for texture and flavor."
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