Mastering Pork Belly
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to master pork belly, along with running three half marathons and renovating my bathroom. Now that it’s March, those three long runs are looking less tempting and my bathroom design is languishing. But I’m happy to say that I haven’t slacked on the pork belly.
“Mastering pork belly” is a rather ambiguous term, of course. I wasn’t envisioning a sous vide creation, or something that would look like it was Momofuku’d. I simply wanted tender meat, rendered fat and a crispy skin.
The inspiration for this came while I was in England over Christmas. The British chain Waitrose might be my favorite grocery store ever. Or perhaps I’ve just fallen for British food propaganda. They’re crazy for local, organic, and sustainable. Everything is packaged with clean white and green logos, and seems to come from a farm just down the street where the pigs were happy and the farmers were kind. They also provide easy recipes for cooking things that you might not be familiar with, like gammon and guinea hens. Their marketing was so effective that I decided I too could cook a pork belly.
Things didn’t turn out quite as I planned. Rubbed in smoked black pepper and braised in apple cider, the flavor was good. But the meat was a bit tough, and the skin never got crispy enough. I knew I could do better.
Since then, I’ve done three more pork bellies, and I’m happy to report that things are coming along nicely. Nicely enough that I decided to share once recipe and a few techniques.
Buying a pork belly here is the first challenge. One grocery store I went to only had pork belly slices in the case- I had to ask the butcher to find me a whole one. He obliged, but when I got home I discovered that the pork belly had bones in it, which I wasn’t interested in. Lesson: one needs to specify that one wants a whole boneless pork belly. Another time I asked for a “whole pork belly” I literally got the whole pig belly: pig nipples and all. I’ll spare you further description, but suffice to say that you can’t be too specific when ordering a pork belly.
A sharp knife is also required when cooking a pork belly. The key to crispy skin is to score it, a task that’s almost impossible with even the best of knives. (My mom’s Cutco’s fared miserably with this task.)
After that, pork belly is quite simple. Like other large cuts of meat, you simply go low and slow. In this case, I braised the pork belly for six hours at 200 degrees, and then set it on a rack to roast for two more hours at 250. Finally, I turned the broiler on, and set it under there for 20 minutes to crisp up the skin. I watched it pretty closely, and used foil to cover the areas that were getting dark fast. The result: tender meat, little residual fat and wonderful crisp skin.
There’s no wrong way to eat pork belly, but in this case I decided to do tacos. Made a quick cabbage slaw, and served rice and beans on the side. My guests seemed to agree: leftovers were scant.
“This is so good it could make a vegetarian eat meat,” Chicky told my Dad. Mission accomplished.
Pork Belly Tacos
Combine each of the following in a roasting pan/Pyrex dish:
- 1 can Coors lights (or other beer)
- 1 can Goya chipotles in adobo sauce
- 2 Tablespoons Victoria Gourmet Smoky Paprika Chipotle Seasoning
- 1 cup Goya recaito cooking sauce
If these ingredients aren’t available, substitute with two fresh jalapenos, a couple dried chipotle peppers, a cup of fresh chopped cilantro, a chopped onion, and two Tablespoons of smoked paprika. Adjust to your taste preferences.
Heat oven to 200 degrees. Score pork belly and set in Pyrex with braising liquid. Cover with tin foil and cook for six hours, until most of the fat has rendered out of the meat. Using tongs, transfer the pork belly to a roasting pan. Increase oven heat to 250 degrees, and return meat to the oven, uncovered. Let cook two hours.
With meat still in oven, turn broiler on high to get skin to crisp. Watch closely, and use tinfoil to cover areas that darken quickly. After 15 to 20 minutes the skin should be crispy.
Serve with tortillas, cabbage slaw, sour cream and cilantro. Rice and beans on the side are a good addition.