Cooking the Unthinkable: Pork Belly

Cooking the Unthinkable is a series that examines some of the more eccentric ingredients.  Whether you are a fan of the bizarre or are preparing for the eminent collapse of Western society this series will help you better stomach weird food.

The name itself does not exactly sound like fine dining but pork belly is a hot culinary trend right now.  But you don’t have to tell the Chinese or the Koreans that.  They’ve been enjoying pork belly for centuries.  And chances are, so have you.

Pork belly is the cut that is used to make bacon.  Bacon is wildly popular in this country and has been for decades that is why it is one of the most popular commodities traded on the stock market.  But pork belly as a cut that is cooked for individual consumption is relatively new in the US market.

Bacon’s popularity has lead to the pork belly revolution but so has the economy.  Pork Belly is cheap.  A recent call to my local meat market got me a quote of $1.99 a pound, retail.  $4 will provide a luxurious, trendy dinner for four.

The lone draw back is that it is not particularly healthy.  Pork belly is not something you’ll want to eat all the time.  In fact I tried an 8 ounce portion which was plenty.  In fact, it was so rich I think I would have been better with 7 ounces.  That last bite left me with a cholesterol hangover for about an hour.  I can see why restaurants go with a 4 ounce portion – so you can actually eat dessert.  It is certainly one of the best ways to commit suicide.

For my first excursion with pork belly I did a simple preparation by making thick slices of onion and Granny Smith apple.  I tossed them with a little olive oil then seasoned with salt and pepper.  I placed the slices into the bottom of a small sauté pan.  On top of that I placed an 8 ounce cut of pork belly also seasoned with salt and pepper and a little brown sugar (maybe a teaspoon).  I added a 1/4 cup of white wine and a few tablespoons apple cider vinegar.

I slow roasted the belly in a 250 oven for about 45 minutes then I basted the belly with some of the liquid in the bottom of the pan.  After another 45 minutes I kicked the temp in the oven up to 425 for about 15 minutes but in retrospect 10 would have been better, some of the onion and apple scorched a bit.  I liked it but many may not.  Many recipes call for scoring the fat like in the picture above.  I may try that next time.

How to describe it.  Imagine a ribeye steak that tastes like bacon.  That’s close, the texture was more like a steak – a steak with a crispy topping.  After having tried it, I get it.  Pork belly is phenomenal!  It is definitely yummy in your tummy.

Like I said, there is a lot of fat so don’t make this part of your weekly rotation but it is a great low-cost “go to” cut for special occasions.  Figure on 5 to 7 ounces per guest and adjust the cooking accordingly, say 30 minutes per pound above my cooking time for 8 ounces.  Oh, and here is the finished product:

yummy tummy

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less
Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards
2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up
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