You may be more familiar with pork belly in its cured form -- bacon -- but you can also order it from the butcher in its whole form, which is equally tasty. When sliced, the pork belly has three separate sections: thick streaks of white fat, the pink-colored meat and a thin layer of skin on top. Like with any meat, adding pork bellies to a brine solution before cooking them will enhance the finished dish.
The Reason for Brining
The reasoning for soaking meat in a brine before cooking it, is to increase its moisture content or juiciness after cooking. When you cook any meat, moisture loss occurs when the proteins inside denature. This is why so many different techniques and tactics are used to try to keep the moisture inside. When you add the meat to a brining solution, the muscle fibers absorb the moisture and retain more moisture after cooking.
Pork Belly Brine Solution
The primary ingredient in any brining solution is salt, and a pork belly brine is no exception. Combine roughly equal parts kosher salt and sugar in a mixing bowl, then mix in several cups of water until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Place the pork bellies into a large, resealable bag and pour the brine solution in. Seal the bag, after squeezing out the air, and set it in a dish in the refrigerator. Leave it for at least 12 hours.
Preparing Brined Pork Belly
After the brine has done its work and the pork belly has absorbed the moisture, discard the brine solution and cook the pork belly. If you intend to keep the pork belly whole, roast it in a 375-degree Fahrenheit oven, in an uncovered roasting pan. Cooking it whole is the logical choice, because if you slice it before you cook it, you will lose some of the moisture you worked for by brining. Roast it for up to two hours, so the skin is crisp but not burned, and it is cooked through. Cut the pork belly in thick slices to serve after it has finished roasting.
Customize Your Brine
If you find a standard salt and sugar brine uninteresting, consider customizing the pork belly brining solution by adding other ingredients. Pinches and dashes of different flavorings can add a whole new flavor profile you didn't expect. Try adding black peppercorns, cayenne pepper, cloves, juniper berries, bay leaves or chopped onion and garlic to the brine. Take the time to remove all of the ingredients from the pork belly after you remove it from the brine and before you cook it.
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