Better known as bacon when cured, you can also buy fresh pork belly. Pork belly contains a rich, silky layer of fat sandwiched between tender meat and a thin layer of skin. Unlike its cured counterpart, pork belly must be cooked slowly, rendering in its own fat to produce a rich and savory bite that melts in your mouth. Prepare a hunk of pork belly with a simple oven braise, try an elaborate porchetta or marinate and smoke it.
Things You'll Need
Salt and pepper (optional)
Oven-Braised Pork Belly
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Find the fattiest side of the pork belly and, using a sharp knife, make shallow, 1/4-inch, crisscrossing cuts. Season the pork belly if you wish, by sprinkling it with a few pinches of salt and pepper.
Place the pork belly in a roasting pan. Surround the pork belly with vegetables, such as sliced onions, celery, carrots or potatoes, if you wish. Add 1/2 cup of cooking liquid, such as chicken or vegetable stock to the pan. Cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil, sealing it tightly.
Bake the pork belly for approximately 3 to 3 1/2 hours for a 1 3/4 pound cut, or until fork-tender. Remove the pork belly from the oven and let rest for approximately 15 minutes on a cool surface.
Heat a skillet over medium-low. Add the pork belly to the heated pan and cook it for 8 to 10 minutes per side, until golden brown and crispy.
Pork Belly Porchetta Roast
Set a 5- to 6-pound cut of pork belly skin side down and arrange a 2- to 3-pound boneless pork loin in the center. Carefully roll the pork belly around the loin so the short ends meet, making sure there is no overhang from either cut of meat. Trim the meat down if there is overhang. Unroll the pork belly and set the loin aside.
Score the fatty side of the pork belly with a sharp knife, making crisscrossing 1/3-inch-deep cuts. Flip the pork belly over, skin side up. Poke a generous number of holes, approximately 1/8 inch deep, through the skin. Take a meat mallet and pound the skin side to tenderize the pork belly. Sprinkle both sides of the pork belly with seasonings such as salt and pepper, fennel, sage, rosemary and red pepper flakes.
Place the loin in the center of the pork belly once again. Roll the pork belly around the loin and tie it closed, securing it with kitchen twine at 1/2-inch intervals.
Place the porchetta roast on a wire rack in a baking sheet and refrigerate for a day or two, but no longer than three, to allow the skin to air-dry. If moisture appears on the skin, pat dry with paper towels. Before cooking, let the porchetta sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
Preheat your oven to 500 F. Sprinkle the porchetta with more seasoning, if you wish.
Roast the porchetta for 40 minutes, turning once halfway through. Reduce the cooking temperature to 300 F and roast for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the internal temperature of the loin reaches 145 F, as measured with an instant-read thermometer. If the skin is not crispy by the end of roasting time, increase the heat once again to 500 F and roast for another 10 minutes. Remove the porchetta roast from the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes before serving.
Smoked Pork Belly
Remove the skin from a 3-pound cut of pork belly or have your butcher do it for you. Rinse the pork belly in cold water, then pat it dry with paper towels. Put the pork belly in a sealable storage bag and pour in a marinade.
Mix a simple brine solution consisting of a 1/2 cup salt per 1 gallon of water or create a sweet maple syrup and bourbon marinade. Make sure the brine or marinade covers the pork belly. Seal the bag, removing as much air as possible. Marinate, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.
Spread a handful of wood chips in the center of the smoker, directly over the burner. Remove the pork belly from the bag, using paper towels to pat off excess marinade. Cut the pork belly in half to speed up and ensure even cooking.
Set the pork belly on a rack above a drip pan, centering it over the burner in the smoker. Set the smoker to a medium heat, mostly covered but leaving the lid slightly ajar, until the wood chips begin to smoke. Reduce the smoker heat to medium-low and cover completely with the lid.
Smoke the pork belly for an hour, or until the internal temperature reaches 145 F, as read on an instant-read thermometer. Serve immediately.
Pork belly can be cooked days ahead of serving. Once the pork belly has cooled, transfer it into a storage container, such as a glass baking dish. Cover the pork belly with parchment paper and weigh it down by placing another storage container on top, weighted down with canned goods. The pork belly can be quickly prepared for serving after a quick sear in a medium hot skillet, approximately 8 to 10 minutes on each side to crisp the exterior. Pork should be refrigerated within 2 hours of cooking and can be safely stored for up to 4 to 5 days, tightly sealed in a container or storage bag. Add pork belly to dishes, such as potato hash, stews and stir-fries, or pair it with roasted vegetables, baked beans, cheesy grits or scrambled eggs. Season your pork belly with fresh herbs and spices such as thyme, oregano, garlic, chili pepper, fennel, sage and rosemary, glaze with agave syrup or hoisin sauce or marinate in a saltwater brine or vinegary marinade to add new flavor dimensions.
Cook pork to an internal temperature of 145 F to avoid foodborne illnesses.