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Pork belly...fail?

I just attempted to braise pork belly for the first time. While it smells delicious, the final result looks less than appetizing. The end result was a very tender piece of meat but it literally fell apart as I carefully lifted it out the braising liquid to chill over night. I know pork belly is a fatty cut but it seemed that most of it was just huge globules of fat which fell back into the pan. I think perhaps I didn't choose a good cut (i.e. good balance of fat and lean to keep the fat in place as it softens) or did I cook it too long or perhaps something else?

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  1. I've found pork belly to have too much belly/fat to pork ratio so will be interested in this thread.

    1 Reply
    1. re: c oliver

      I tried Trader Joe's precooked last week and thought it had a good ratio and didn't seem so flabby but this stuff literally looks like a pile of lard.

    2. As with bacon (made from the same part), the ratio of fat to lean varies with part of the belly.

      2 Replies
      1. re: paulj

        That was my initial thought, that as a newbie to pork belly I didn't realize this and just grabbed the cut in front not realizing it was mostly fat.

        1. re: fldhkybnva

          If you used that Epicurious method I posted, it definitely gets VERY tender - I usually allow it to cool completely in the liquid before trying to lift it out, and then fridge it under a weight (as I mentioned) before slicing. It's possible that you overcooked it a bit too, if your oven runs hot at all, but that won't ruin it, it will just be harder to cut.

          However, you definitely need to be careful when choosing a piece - some bellies are WAY fatty, and some have the fat parts all in one layer rather than nice striations of fat and meat. You want one with plenty of meat and good layers, so the fat bits aren't too chunky.

      2. I no savy on braisey, so can't comment on your procedure.
        However, when I want to wow with pork belly, I turn to Derek Dammann's recipe here

        1. If it fell apart then you way overcooked it.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Zalbar

            It's still intact, aside from obvious chunks of fat at the end which plopped into the pan, just quite delicate

            1. re: fldhkybnva

              i'd cut up what you have and crisp it under the broiler. careful it doesn't catch fire too badly, lol.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                That's the plan. I planned to eat it tomorrow so I thought I'd crisp it up then and hope for the best. I had a lovely pork belly and collard greens meal in mind...

                1. re: fldhkybnva

                  You can also pan fry it (in a non-stick skillet - I'm not sure why, but pork belly tends to stick like crazy to stainless steel, at least for me) or deep fry it, if you're worried about it catching fire under the broiler (which it definitely can if you're not careful). Whatever you do, don't try grilling it over an open flame. I almost burned down a friend's house doing that once (the pork belly was still edible, if a little charred)!

                  1. re: biondanonima

                    I attempted to sear the TJs precooked in a cast iron pan and it stuck too then I read in this latest adventure that pork skin is notorious for sticking so a nonstick is recommended as you suggested.

          2. it's something i cook often but never braise it. you can't firm the fat that way.

            have used both ad hoc and ruhlman methods which make dinner guests swoon.

            my easy-peasy is to slice some onions into thick rings and layer those in the bottom of a dish. place pork belly on top. cover onion with boiling water. roast at 400 for 20-30 minutes then lower heat to 275 til meat is tender.

            10 Replies
            1. re: hotoynoodle

              I basically used your easy-peasy method, perhaps I just cooked it too long.

              1. re: fldhkybnva

                was the meat submerged in the liquid? my method does not do that and so is not a braise.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  The meat was 3/4 above the liquid, just 1 cup.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    One way to distinguish between a stew and braise, is in the amount of liquid. Enough to float the meat is a stew, part ial exposure is a braise. In a roast the meat is above the liquid (if there is any).

                    1. re: paulj

                      Hence it was a braise, as described :)

                      1. re: paulj

                        i think the op and i both know the difference between a stew and a braise.

                    2. re: fldhkybnva

                      The easy-peasy method sounds very much like the recipe I linked above.
                      Howsomever, the onions are halved, liquid only up to 1/2 height of onions, belly sits atop onions and doesn't really sit in juice. easy-peasy-no-braisey

                      1. re: ChrisOfStumptown

                        it's on his blog, not sure about the book.

                    3. I've made Laura Calder's pork belly with lentils and it was fabulous. I wouldn't braise pork belly though.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: rasputina

                        " Make a bed in a roasting pan with the carrots and onions. Lay the pork belly on top, skin-side up. Pour over the cider and a cup of water. Cook 30 minutes to get the fat running. Stir together the honey and Dijon with a spoonful of water. Brush the mustard mixture onto the fat, and lower the heat to 325 degrees F. Continue cooking, basting occasionally with the honey, for 3 hours.
                        3 hrs at 325, starting with 2c of liquid in the roasting pan - except the lack of a cover that is a braise. In fact, Harold McGee argues that omitting the cover like this makes for a better braise. Evaporation of the liquid keeps the cooking temperature below boiling (though the exposed part of the meat may brown).

                        1. re: rasputina

                          Petit salé is another way with belly (or other pork cut). The pork can be home salted - dry or brine for a week or two, then simmered and served with lentils.

                        2. I cook it like a Korean...in the pressure cooker ;)

                          45 minutes to perfection, every time. No fail.

                          1. I do stewed/braised pork belly quite often. Not as often as I want, though, because eating chunks of fat for dinner is something that I should do sparingly.

                            By the time it's cooked, it does tend to fall apart, and it's not a very appetizing looking cut. The fat is very soft and almost butter like in consistency. So if the cut is mainly fat, it will be pretty fragile, but the non fat portions should be tender and flavourful.

                            The fat is amazingly delicious at this point, though.

                            What I usually do is chill it in the braising liquid. Then in the morning I can scrape off the rendered fat and lift out the meat, which will be nicely solid at this point. To serve, I cut up the meat into chopstick sized portions, put some of the braising liquid in a pan with the meat, and cook for just long enough to heat it and get a bit of a glaze with the liquid.

                            One of my favourite versions is done in the slow cooker. Pork belly strips, 1 cup sake, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, 1/4 cup dashi, a couple of whole green onions, a few large chunks of ginger, and enough water to cover the meat. Stew over night, and prepare as above.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                              I let it chill and as expected it's firmed up a bit. I think I'll crisp it up and give it a go for dinner.

                              1. re: fldhkybnva

                                pressing while chilling will help firm it as well.

                            2. I usually braise pork belly until it is so tender that it is close to falling apart and you can make the layer of fat jiggle. Some recipes will say to braise until it actually is falling apart.

                              I'm not sure if searing it before braising helps to hold it together, but that's what I do.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: FoodPopulist

                                Yup, I definitely got the jiggle. How do you serve it?

                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                  If it is close to falling apart, I have done things such as a two-person job using two large turners/spatulas and some tongs to transfer it from cooking vessel to a serving plate. Sometimes, I have ended up cutting it into smaller pieces before moving it. If I absolutely had to move it in one piece, I would consider finding a way to put some cheesecloth or foil underneath it and use that to transfer the pork belly, but I've never had to resort to that back-up plan.

                                  It's normally served in some of the braising liquid, sometimes reduced down to create a thicker sauce, along with other items such as shitake mushrooms or banana blossoms (usually bought dried from an Asian grocery) that I added for the last hour or so of the braise.

                                  I usually score the fat so that you have these cubes of fat attached to a single piece of meat served buffet-style (it something I usually only cook for parties) where people can easily separate a piece of meat attached to fat.

                              2. I have braised it to almost falling apart, then chilled it, cubed it, and broiled the cubes.