I am become pork, destroyer of bellys. Maple Balsamic Pork Belly, three ways to prepare it, and mastering the crackle.
Over the last couple weeks I’ve been trying to make the “perfect” pork belly. At first it just wasn’t coming out right, too firm, skin not crispy enough, glaze isn’t good and so on and so forth. I can now say that I’ve got this shit figured out and and I’m ready to share. It took me around 7 bellies until I did get it figured out so hopefully by reading this you won’t have to go through what I did.
This is my pork belly manifesto.
Now that being said I’m going to talk about 3 different ways to cook the pork belly. It will be broken down into cook-times, one method is kind of the ultimate “oh my god” method, the other will be the “this is very very very good” method, and the other is the quick and easy “yea thats good” method. Pork Belly is a fatty cut of meat, its very decadent. For the best results it requires long and low cook times to really render that fat into a melt in your mouth consistency.
The three methods summarized
- The Moderate – This method involves a quick parboil, then baking, and finishing with either a broil or a flame-torch to finish it off. It takes about 90 minutes, the crackling is very crispy but the meat is slightly chewy.
- The Very Good – This method involves a low and slow boil, then finishing with a broil. It is a very rich texture, very good crackling, all around its a very good pork belly. It takes about 3-4 hours.
- The Ultimate – This method will give you the most amazing texture you’ve ever had in your life, I promise. It involves Sous-Vide, Baking, and Broiling. This one is a good 10-hour cook time so get yourself prepared early if this is what you are going for (alternatively I believe its ok to just put your belly in the fridge after cooking and pull it out before you’re ready to do the finishing steps)
Did you know they sold pork belly with the skin cut off? I didn’t. First time I made it I was trying to figure out why it wasn’t getting all crispy like everyone told me then I realized, like the derp that I can be sometimes, that they took the f@cking skin off of it and I was sitting there trying to broil fat. So don’t be like me, make sure you have skin on your belly. The crispy skin is arguably the most important part of a really good pork belly. Its a difficult thing to really learn because there is a layer of fat just under the skin so we need the skin to be dry enough to crisp, while rendering that fat and keeping it from soaking the skin.
I’m going to make this recipe for 1 pound of pork belly, scale it if you’re going to have more than 2 very hungry people, or 4 people using it as an appetizer/snack.
- 1 pound pork belly
- Lots of Salt (Not bothering measuring, you need enough to rub it down)
- 3 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
- 6 Tbsp Maple Syrup (you can use the sugarless version if you’d like to avoid too much sugar, you may need to use more to impart the same flavor)
The sauce/glaze is the same for all three methods, so I’ll talk about the sauce at the very end of this post.
METHOD ONE: Fast and Easy Parboil
This method is really basic, and takes around 90 minutes.
First we are going to slice up our pork belly skin. You’re going to want to use a really sharp knife for this or even a razor blade, that skin is surprisingly tough. What you want is to cut deep enough to get through the skin and into the fat layer, but not so deep that you see red tissue/muscle. Slice in a cross-pattern if you want or straight up/down, whatever.
Next up we are going to prepare a bath for it. Take a sauce pan and fill it with enough water that it goes up to the skin but not so much that the water goes passed the skin. Add a couple tbsp of salt to the water and get it really salty. Bring it to a boil, make sure the salt is all dissolved, then place your belly, skin side down, onto the pan.
Put a lid on it and let it simmer for around 15 minutes. Feel free to start preheating your oven now. Set it at 325 degrees.
Now then, put it in a small baking tray and pop it in the oven. Add a tiny bit of water to the bottom of the pan and let it go for around 20 minutes. After 20 minutes check on it and maybe add another splash of water and give it around another 20 minutes.
After around 40-45 minutes your pork belly should start to look pretty cooked, the skin should feel kinda dry to the touch, a couple pieces may have crackled and popped into crispyness. Now what you want is to set the broiler on to about 525 degrees, put the belly about 3 trays down from the top of the oven, and let it crackle for 2-5 minutes, keep an eye on it. Alternatively you can also use a blowtorch if you have access to one. It takes about 2 seconds to just lightly tap it with the flame and you will watch the skin just crisp immediately.
You should get a final product like this:
That’s it, cut, add sauce, serve.
METHOD TWO: Slow and Low Bake
This method isn’t very complicated. Because we aren’t trying to cook with speed we aren’t going to parboil it, what we want to do with this version is to dust the pork belly with a bunch of salt and really rub that sh!t into the cracks/crannies of the cut skin. The idea behind this is we want that salt to really leech the moisture out of the skin during the cook process to help with crackling, and at the same time impart a nice saltiness to the skin.
Preheat your oven to 320 degrees
I apologize for not taking a ton of pictures of this part but I assume you all know what a pork belly in a pan in a oven looks like. The only difference in looks from the above picture is the salt-method. Let it sit in the oven for around two and a half hours. At this point turn up the heat to 360 and give it another 20-25 minutes. Finally if your pork belly hasn’t quite fully crackled, finish it with a good 2-5 minutes broil or torch to get it to really pop.
METHOD THREE: The Ultimate Guide to Making the Super Mega Awesome…Belly
This method involves a long slow sous-vide cook.
Now I don’t know how you serve pork belly for your friends/family but the way I do it I like to have small cubes of pork belly available to eat that are finger-food sized. It drove me crazy trying to cut through crispy crackling so now what I do is I score the belly in the pattern that I plan on cutting it later, so I can use those score as guidelines. I cut the 1 pound belly into 3 strips, then I make a vertical cut every 3/4 inch or so through the skin. This is the size of each bite. Then I make an X in each “square” of skin.
Give each strip a delicate rubdown with maple syrup. One cool thing about this method is it allows you to slightly infuse the actual meat with that maple flavor. Its not strong but its pleasantly faint.
Seal up your belly, and put it into your Sous-Vide setup. You’re going to want to let this cook 9 hours at 170 degrees. We are going for truely rendered fat on this one. 6 hours is the bare minimum I’d go, but 9 is what you want.
After it comes out it should look like this.
Give it a quick blot with a paper towel to try to soak up as much moisture on the skin as possible. The belly itself is cooked at this point, now we want to go for crackle.
Give it a light rubdown with some salt, same routine as before, set the oven to its lowest temperature really and let it bake for around 30-60 minutes. Add a tiny bit of water to prevent burning/sticking on the bottom.
The reason I say 30-60, I know thats not very specific, is because it depends on quickly your particular belly skin dries out. Open the oven and start checking to see if its dry. Once its dry you can set up the broiler (3 racks down is what it is on my oven, close to the flame but not almost in the flame)
Let it broil at 525 until it crackles perfectly, cook time may vary, anywhere from 5-20 minutes. This is the part you really need to keep an eye on it. This is the look we want.
Now you can take the belly out of the oven and use the pre-cut lines to cut them into bite sized cubes. This is your finished belly, next up we add glaze.
Dat Sauce Tho’
So the sauce is really simple but really amazing for this. The vinegar brings a slight acidity and the maple brings a sweetness, the two just play off eachother very well.
Its pretty simple you’re going to want to put your syrup and balsamic into a small saucepan. You essentially want a 2:1 Maple:Balsamic ratio. Turn the heat on until you get it to simmer.
Turn the heat down and let it lightly simmer, keep stirring it with a spoon regularly. This will take 5-10 minutes we want this to reduce to a nice syrupy texture, if you pick up your spoon and pour it back into the bowl and it has the texture of water, its not reduced enough. Keep in mind that it will continue to thicken a little bit after you turn the heat off so don’t make it so thick that its like BBQ sauce. Just a nice syrupy texture.
Cut your belly into whatever shape you’d like if you used the slab-method.
Finally, you know what do do, just coat your belly in that glaze and you should be golden. You should have a shiny, crispy, gooey, morsel of pure glory at the very end of this process.
Regardless of which method you use the pork belly will come out very good, the glaze/sauce is really amazing and it will work on all three methods. Enjoy, may you now belly with the best of them.