With the exception of vegetarians, pork belly remains a favorite among gourmands around the world. Some years ago, pork belly appeared on the menus of many aspiring chefs, but – with the possible exception of David Chang – it has become somewhat passé as a culinary delicacy. Let’s face it, pork belly is simply uncured bacon. However, when paired balsamic vinegar and with the “right” vegetables, fruits and spices it is very hard to resist.
Given its rich taste, I only indulge myself – and my waistline – a couple of times a year. I will only do so if I find a particularly lean piece of pork: more meat than fat. I generally have the butcher score the fat since even the sharpest of knives or box-cutters have difficulty cutting through the rind.
Found below is one of my favorite recipes which makes me think of Italy as I incorporate fennel seeds or fennel pollen and aged balsamic vinegar. If you are fortunate enough to have fennel pollen, you need to dial it back since fennel pollen is about 3 times as concentrated as crushed fennel seeds. Simply cook the pork belly slowly until you raise the temperature for the crackling. It is important to note that the sliced onion and fennel are simply used to raise the pork belly above the fat that will released during the cooking process. Discard any vegetables that have been burnt. As a finishing glaze, I simply drizzle aged balsamic vinegar across the top. Balsamic vinegar is a wonderful foil against the richness of the pork belly.
Pork Belly with Onions, Fennel & Balsamic Vinegar
Ingredients (comfortably serves 6)
- 2 to 2.5 lb. pork belly
- 3 medium onions, sliced 3/8″ thickness
- 1 fennel head, sliced 3/8″ thickness
- 3 teaspoons salt flakes
- 5 tablespoons oil
- Aged balsamic vinegar
Preparation (Cooking & Preparation 5 hours)
- Place two sheets of aluminum foil in a baking dish.
- Add onions and fennel to foil, stack evenly if necessary. Make sure the pork is resting on a flat discs of the onions and fennel.
- Remove all moisture from pork rind by dabbing with high-grade paper towel. This will ensure the pork rind crackles perfectly. Mix salt flakes and oil and rub all over pork belly, including the scored rind. Work into the crevices all over the pork. Place pork, rind side up, on top of onions and fennel.
- Gather the aluminum foil so that is surrounds the pork but leaves the top skin rind exposed.
- Place in oven preheated to 275° F and cook for 4 hours. Remove from oven and save any liquid (skim off fat).
- Finally, before serving, place the pork back into oven and cook at 400° F for another 20 minutes. This will bring the crackling up to perfection.
- Immediately before serving drizzle balsamic vinegar across the top.
- Optional, served with orange slices and/or the onions and fennel.
Pork belly doesn’t get more Italian than this. Enjoy.