Pork belly rage no surprise here

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 26, 2011

In the last few years, pork belly and bacon have been making a comeback. Everywhere you turn, you see bacon dipped in chocolate, bacon mayonnaise, pork belly sandwiches, braised pork belly, and bacon ice cream. (Perhaps a little much, although I have said bacon makes anything taste better.) You perhaps can blame David Chang, who has added to the pork belly craze. David Chang is the owner of several noodle bars in New York, but is also the author of the cookbook, Momofuku. I bought the book last year but never got around to reading it or cooking from it until this year. My daughter, who does more oriental cooking than I do, did some recipes from the book on her visit over Christmas and the use of pork belly was the main ingredients for her recipes.

Jamie Oliver thinks pork belly is the new foie gras. Foie gras is so 2000. (My husband still and has for years always ordered the seared foie gras if on the menu.) Pork belly could use a new name or some brand marketing. For those who have never tried it, the thought of trying it may just seem unappealing at best and disgusting at worst, but I say, get over it—you are missing one of the culinary pleasures of the world. Actually Southerners have known this all along.

Getting back to David Chang of Momofuku; David uses the best part of the belly in the most popular dishes at his restaurant, which are ramen and pork buns. The layer that settles at the bottom of the pan after you chill it is called jellied gold. David labels this “pork jelly” in his restaurant and uses it in broths or vegetable sautés—or anything that would benefit from a meaty flavor. To harvest it, decant the fat and juices from the pan in which you cooked the pork belly into a glass measuring cup or other clear container. Let it cool until the fat separates from the meat juices, which will settle to the bottom. Pour or scoop up the fat and reserve it for cooking. Save the juices, which will turn to a ready-to-use meat jelly after a couple of hours in the fridge. The meat jelly will keep for one week in the refrigerator or indefinitely in the freezer.

You need to buy pork belly without the skin. I bought a five-pound pork belly at Whole Foods for about $4.95 a pound and then another three-pound pork belly at a farmer’s market for $5.99 a pound. They were both delicious, but I had the satisfaction that the pastured pork from the farmer’s market was healthier. If you get pork belly with the skin on, don’t fret. If the meat is cold and your knife is sharp, the skin is a cinch to slice off.

Recipe from Momofuku, by chef and author David Chang.

Pork Belly for Ramen, Pork Buns and Just About Anything Else

Makes enough pork for 6 to 8 bowls of ramen or about 12 pork buns


One-3-pound slab skinless pork belly

¼ cup kosher salt

¼ cup sugar

1. Nestle the belly into a roasting pan or other oven-safe vessel that holds it snugly. Mix together the salt and sugar in a small bowl and rub the mixture all over the meat; discard any excess salt-and-sugar mixture. Cover the container with plastic wrap and put it into the fridge for at least 6 hours, but no longer than 24.

2. Heat the oven to 450°F.

3. Discard any liquid that accumulated in the container. Put the belly in the oven, fat side up, and cook for 1 hour, basting it with the rendered fat at the halfway point, until it’s an appetizing golden brown.

4. Turn the oven down to 250°F and cook for another 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the belly is tender—it shouldn’t be falling apart, but it should have a down pillow-like yield to a firm finger poke. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the belly to a plate. Decant the fat and the meat juices from the pan and reserve (see above). Allow the belly to cool slightly.

5. When it’s cool enough to handle, wrap the belly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and put it in the fridge until it’s thoroughly chilled and firm. (You can skip this step if you’re pressed for time, but the only way to get neat, nice-looking slices is to chill the belly thoroughly before slicing it.)

6. Cut the pork belly into ½-inch-thick slices that are about 2 inches long. Warm them for serving in a pan over medium heat, just for a minute or two, until they are jiggly soft and heated through. Use at once.

We used the pork belly in pork buns. My daughter made the pork buns, which uses the rendered fat. The dough uses yeast and takes a while to rise but then can be divided into around 50 balls, rolled out and steamed. The bun recipe is for another day!

Inside the pork bun we would put a tablespoon of Hoisin sauce, some chopped green onions, then a slice of pork belly. Talk about good!! This is the same idea as Peking duck which is just one of my favorite dishes. The duck is usually served on a small flat pancake but the pork bun would be delicious with the duck as well. The buns once steamed, can be frozen and just steamed quickly again when needed. This would make a very impressive appetizer or first course.