In truth, for much of my life I considered pork belly to be on the bad side of disgusting. Back then, in America, pork belly was relegated to banquets at Cantonese restaurants — quivering blobs of red-dyed fat served with eight other high quantity, low quality dishes. FACT: there are 147 calories in one ounce of pork belly, 92% which is fat.
Other than that, my only other awareness of pork bellies came from the term “pork belly futures,” a concept developed out of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to bring stability to pork prices throughout the year. When there was a glut of pork on the market, the bellies could be frozen and then transformed into bacon at a more financially opportune time. Ultimately pork belly futures became a euphemism for other types of commodities trading.
But what was once prosaic is now high art. In the new millennium, pork belly has become elevated to the height of culinary chicness and is featured on the menus of any restaurant that even pretends to be hip. Plus, my friend John Bodoia was raving about it. And even though hipness is beyond my ken, I timidly opened my mind.
SLOW ROASTED PORK BELLY
This recipe is adapted from the Foodspin guest columnist Chris Thompson, who claims that pork belly “thoroughly kick’s bacon’s ass.” More about bacon later. He suggests a three-phase process.
1. After scoring the belly and oiling it with olive oil, rub with a mixture of equal parts of garlic power, cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne and salt, plus two parts of brown sugar. Let that set in the fridge for a bit.
2. Place the belly fat side up in a 500 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, when the fat starts to turn brown. Then to the next phase: immediately turn the oven down to 325 degrees and roast that baby for 90 minutes.
3. Pour a can of beer into the roasting pan and roast for an hour.
Let it set for 15 or 20 minutes before pouring off the fat (for later uses) and cutting or shredding the meat.
After that, it’s up to you. You can put it in a sandwich or tortilla. You can put it in duck-buns with plum sauce or hoisin. You can serve it instead of bacon for breakfast. You can dab it behind your ears. Use your imagination, and then tell me what you did.
ON THE OTHER HAND, THERE’S BACON
I know, making your own bacon sounds a bit Portlandia, but doing it yourself makes for a product that is superior to what you can get in a plastic wrapper. You will need a smoker and a supply of Pink Salt #2, but no other special equipment. My suggestion is that you make a whole buncha bacon at once, since it is sort of a bother to go through all that trouble for just a meal’s worth. Just freeze that which you do not immediately consume.
This is the point in the blog when I might make a cheesy remark about “bringing home the bacon,” but in this case you would be “bringing home the pork belly,” which doesn’t have the same ring to it. Although I suppose you could accurately say “brining home the bacon.” Whatever.
By the way, that term, “bringing home the bacon” comes from 12th century England, where a church had the idea of awarding a side of bacon to any man who would swear to the Lord that he had not quarreled with his wife for a year. There is a back story to that, but I am not sure what it is.
So here is how I made my bacon.
First, make sure you have enough room in your refrigerator.
Then take off the skin (pork rind) and make shallow diamond cuts in the fat (try not to hit the meat) and then cut that big belly into 3 lb. slabs.
Next, you make a paste out of ½ cup each honey, sea salt and brown sugar (I used dark) with 2T Pink Salt #2 (which you can get at Amazon, unless you are John Bodoia), and 1T each of cayenne, fennel and smoked paprika.
Then rub it all over your belly—pork that is– and stick each slab into a ziplock bag, pressing out extra air.
Then, stick your bellies in the fridge, flipping them over every day for seven days (you could go a little longer if you wish).
After seven days, take the bellies out of their bags, rinse them, pat them dry and then leave them (preferably on cookie racks) in the fridge for 2 full days so they can form their pellicles. A pellicle is a coat of protein that makes it easier for the smoke to adhere to the meet.
Are you ready to make some bacon? Just throw those pellicled-pig-parts into a low temperature smoker, say around 200 degrees for around four hours. They should have an internal temperature of 150 degrees.
Slice it as thick or thin as you like. By the way, this makes some pretty awesome carbonara.