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: