Pork belly is, as the name implies, from the belly area of the pig. When pork belly is cured, smoked and sliced, it is called bacon. When it isn't cured or smoked, it is simply known as pork belly. Your family will love the rich flavor of the pork belly. Because this meat hasn't been cured, the strips have less salt than bacon, which makes them more healthy. Like bacon, pork belly is sometimes sold in strips, and, like bacon, the best way to prepare it is to pan-fry it in its own fat.
Choosing a good cut of pork belly is similar to selecting bacon. Look for pork belly that is meaty but has an even marbling of fat. This will help the meat to cook evenly. If you are planning to smoke or cure the pork belly at home to make your own bacon, choose uncut rather than sliced meat because slices will cook all the way through in the smoker rather than become cured and flavored. If you plan to cook the meat without smoking it, choose sliced meat.
Pork belly slices are often cut like thick-cut bacon to make the most of their meaty pork flavor. If you purchased uncut meat but are going to just cook it rather than cure and smoke it, slice it into strips that are 1/3-inch to 1/4-inch thick. Pan-fry the strips over medium-high heat until they are done to your desired degree of crispness, then place them on a plate covered with paper towels to drain. Draining the meat makes it less greasy, which is a benefit if you are serving the pork belly as a topping to black-eyed peas or a salad with creamy dressing.
Serve your pork belly slices as you would bacon. Pork belly is an ideal meaty side to go with eggs and toast for breakfast. It also makes a hearty sandwich filler that has all of the pork flavor of bacon but without the saltiness, so kids may love it in BLTs. Crumble it up and sprinkle it over a baked potato or a cream soup. Pork belly also goes well with vegetables. Add it to sautéed green beans or to cut the sweetness in a side of sautéed squash.
Other Cooking Methods
While pan-frying is the most common way to serve pork belly strips, you can also bake them if you prefer flatter, less crispy strips. Baking takes more time than pan-frying, so do not choose this method if you are in a hurry. Microwaving the strips is the fastest method of cooking them. Microwave the strips of pork belly between layers of paper towel. Microwaving the meat will not adversely affect its flavor, and the strips will come out of the microwave perfectly flat and crisp.
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Natalie Smith is a technical writing professor specializing in medical writing localization and food writing. Her work has been published in technical journals, on several prominent cooking and nutrition websites, as well as books and conference proceedings. Smith has won two international research awards for her scholarship in intercultural medical writing, and holds a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric.
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