Pork Belly

Chefs love pork belly.  It lends itself to so many different preparations, cooking techniques and flavor combinations.  It is one of few food items that have the unique ability to absorb the flavors of what it is cooked or served with, while maintaining its own flavor and texture.  It can be sweet, it can be salty, it can be smoky.  It can be all of the above at the same time. 

At the 2010 Worlds of Flavor conference recently held at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus in St. Helena, pork belly was everywhere.  In the Barrel Room, where participants are invited to convene nightly for an informal gathering of chefs, restaurateurs, caterers, and any other industry titles you can think of, pork belly was everywhere.  This year’s conference featured the cuisine of Japan and boy, oh boy, do they love their pork belly.

Pork belly is relatively new to America’s dining scene, but has been used in Asian cooking for centuries.  Heavily used in Korean, Chinese and Japanese cooking, pork belly is primarily found in fining dining establishments stateside.  Americans tend to be guarded when it comes to consuming pork belly, likely because of its name, but for those that don’t know, pork belly is what is cured and smoked for bacon, that unctuous breakfast food that most people will tell you can make anything and everything better.  A friend of mine, chef Wilson Wieggel of The Old House restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico, makes a wonderful crispy seared pork belly that is served with caramelized cauliflower and plump golden raisins.  Customers sometimes ask if the dish can be served without the belly, chef Wieggel respectfully declines.

I’ll be the first to admit that pork belly probably isn’t for everyone.  But if you eat bacon, you should be just fine eating it when it’s prepared another way.  Not to say that pork belly should be placed on a paper towel-lined plate and micro-waved (thanks, Mom) like bacon, however.  The belly can be seared, braised, grilled, smoked, or any combination of the aforementioned, and in the hands of the right individual, can provide the diner with a delectable, mouth-watering hunk of meat.  It’s the kind of experience that makes a first-timer wonder: A.) Why haven’t I had this before and, B.) When can I eat this again?  What is unique about pork belly, are the levels of flavor and texture that it possesses.  You’ve got a nice layer of meat, a layer of fat, another layer of meat, and another layer of fat.  Often times it is seared in a hot pan to give the skin a crispy, crunchy mouth feel and providing consumers with an otherworldly textural experience.  Other chefs will braise it low and slow, then serve it with a reduction of the braising liquid.  In other words, pork belly is the sultry slow jam of the swine world.  Any way you slice it or dice it, most chefs will drool at the thought of a piece of properly cooked pork belly.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.