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How to cook pork belly

There’s a reason why pork belly is so revered around the world – it ticks all the boxes you could ask for when it comes to meat. With its crisp, crunchy skin and tender meat that melts in the mouth, pork belly is stunning when treated with a bit of care and attention. The fact that it’s also incredibly versatile and affordable just adds to its charm.

Though pork belly has become rather fashionable in the last few decades, it has remained a cheap cut to cook with (and we hope it stays that way). Whilst prime cuts like loin were hit with a premium, belly would often be ground down into sausage meat with other trimmings, or cured and sliced to make streaky bacon. However, many home cooks know how succulent, tender and flavourful this cut of pork can be when cooked properly – and this guide will give you everything you need to get the most out of it.

What to look for when buying pork belly

Whether you’re buying pork belly at the butcher or the supermarket, the first thing to look out for is that it’s fresh. The first place to look is the fat – good fat should be a creamy white colour; any sign of discolouration (greying or yellowing of the fat) is a sign of age. Similarly there shouldn’t be any off smells and the flesh should be firm and pink with no degradation or sliminess.

You want a good ratio of fat to flesh – somewhere around the 50:50 range is good, and ideally you want an even distribution of both with nice even layers of intramuscular fat between the muscles. This means when you cook your pork belly and you come to portion it, there won’t be one area with very little meat and an even spread of rendered fat throughout.

How to cook pork belly

As the name implies, pork belly is taken from the belly of the pig – this means it has a very high fat content, which gives the meat a lot of flavour. Traditionally pork belly has always favoured slow-cooking methods – this allows the fat to render into the meat over time, leaving the resulting flesh moist and tender. Slow-roasting in the oven allows you to render the fat and crisp up the skin simultaneously, creating a lovely textural contrast, but pork belly is equally delicious when braised or stewed – the latter methods result in a pleasantly chewy texture, as the fat doesn’t render quite so much. For professional chefs and ambitious home cooks, cooking pork belly sous vide can result in some incredible flavours and textures – check out our guide on how to do that below, along with some tips if you're planning to cook pork belly on the barbecue.

Pork belly tends to be sold two ways: in large slabs to be roasted whole, or cut into strips (which are commonly found in supermarkets). Both are equally delicious but suited to different styles of dishes. People gravitate towards slow-cooking pork belly mainly because of the fat, not because the meat is especially tough (by comparison, shoulder and leg joints are often slow-cooked because the muscle has done a lot of work over the course of its life and therefore needs more cooking to break it down). Pork belly slices can be seared in a hot pan or on a barbecue and eaten straight away – they won’t be as soft as they are when braised or slow-roasted, but they’re no less delicious and you can add all sorts of interesting dry rubs and marinades.

For a simple method of roasting a larger piece of pork belly, take a look at the method below. If you're using strips, they can be roasted or braised – give them around an hour to allow the fat to render down (or less if you like them a little chewier). You can also slice them very thinly and stir-fry them for just a few minutes; a popular technique in countries like China.

Ingredients

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1
Preheat an oven to 220ºC/gas mark 7
2
Score the fat on top of the belly with a sharp knife, being sure not to cut into the meat
3
Pat the pork belly all over with kitchen paper to dry the surface, then rub with olive oil and season generously all over with salt and black pepper. You can add other herbs and spices at this point too if you like – fennel seeds and thyme both work well
4
Roast the belly in the oven for 30 minutes, until the skin on top has crisped up, then reduce the heat to 160ºC/gas mark 3 and roast for another 2 hours
5
Rest the pork belly for 20 minutes under a sheet of tin foil, then carve

Pork belly inspiration

Apple and red cabbage are classic English accompaniments to fatty cuts of pork, and with good reason – pork belly coats your palate with fat, and both these ingredients have an acidic, sweet tang that helps to cut through that. Try Simon Hulstone’s Pork belly with apple purée and sprouting broccoli or Mark Dodson’s Roulade of pork belly, braised red cabbage and apple compote for two very English ways of serving this cut. For something a bit more exotic, Colin McGurran’s Roast pork belly with pineapple and satay sauce is definitely one for the more adventurous.

Shu Han Lee’s Miso and ginger braised pork belly is a great example of the slightly chewy, slippery delights of braised pork belly, as is Thuy Pham’s Coconut braised pork and egg – a classic Vietnamese dish that values the fat just as much as the flesh.

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