Pork belly ranks up there with beef brisket as one of the great underrated cuts of meat you can buy. Sure, short ribs and veal shanks don’t get a lot of play for the flavor they deliver, but osso bucco appears on every upscale Italian menu, and short ribs were ruined by TV chefs, sending the price soaring.
Most American butchers don’t stock pork belly because it does not sell particularly well in its regular form. When turned into bacon it, well, brings home the bacon (pork belly does much better in Asian markets, where it shines in Chinese, Korean and Japanese dishes).
Pork belly does very well with smoky flavors like sausage, or hot chiles, or sour citrus. The first had me thinking about a beer brine that I read about at The Beeroness’ blog. Stone Brewing Company’s Smoked Porter looked like the perfect fit here. The California-based brewery uses peat-smoked malt in the base of its interpretation of the traditional British porter, which has strong chocolate and coffee notes. It’s pretty good as a standalone drink too, as is the smoked porter with vanilla bean.
The pork belly sat in the beer brine for 24 hours, penetrating the pork and creating amazing flavor. The smoke and malts were present through the entire piece of meat, even after being rinsed of the brine and slow-roasting for 4 hours. I caught a piece of exposed fat — much of which melted away and basted the meat to keep it moist — and it bursted with the smoky beer flavor.
WHAT WORKED: The beer and the pork. It was like kismet.
WHAT DIDN’T: So, The Beeroness has you cranking up your oven heat to 500 degrees, mixing a blend of hot pepper, brown sugar and rice vinegar, and basting the pork belly. The result was, well…
The basting ran off on to the aluminum foil-lined baking sheet, combined with the rendered pork fat, and burned like a mother. We smoked the house out and spent about 20 minutes with the doors and windows open. In December. Next time, I would probably pour the fat off.
EASE OF PREPARATION: Medium, if only because procuring all of the ingredients may be a little difficult.
BEST FOR: A weekend dinner, or if you are looking for something a somewhat offbeat meat for taco night.
SERVE WITH: Something sweet to balance off the smoke and richness from the pork fat. I opted for B. Nektar’s Zombie Killer cyser, but a semi-dry or regular riesling would be okay. And, if you have it, pour a Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean.
DISCLAIMER: Stone Brewing Company provided the beer for this recipe. No other compensation was received.
Stone Smoked Porter Brined Crispy Pork Belly
Inspired by The Beeroness
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
- 8 oz. hot tap water
- 1 tbsp. whole (not ground) cloves
- 1 tbsp. whole(not ground) allspice berries
- 15 turns of a black pepper grinder at the coarsest setting
- 22 oz. bottle Stone Smoked Porter, refrigerated
- 2 lbs. pork belly
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 3 tbsp. rice vinegar
- 2 tsp. crushed red pepper
Set the pork belly on a large, clean work surface. With a sharp paring knife, score each side of the pork belly in a crosshatch pattern. Don’t cut it deeply; just enough to “break the skin.”
Add salt and sugar to a large mixing bowl, and pour in the tap water, whisking until solids have dissolved. Add the cloves, allspice and pepper. Stir with the whisk to combine, then slowly pour in the beer. Whisk gently as you pour to combine. Add the pork belly to the bowl, submerging the meat, and cover with plastic wrap. Keep cold and let stand at least 12, but up to 24 hours.
Preheat your oven to 275 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with two layers of aluminum foil, then set a wire rack in the pan. Uncover the pork belly and place it on a dish. Transfer about 8 oz. of the brining liquid to the baking sheet, taking care not to submerge the wire rack.
Under cold water, rinse the pork belly thoroughly. Set the pork on the rack and cook 4 hours.
In a small bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, rice vinegar and crushed red pepper until you have what amounts to a sugar paste. Brush the pork belly with the sugar paste then place in the oven. Roast 10 minutes, keeping an eye on the roast and removing it if the sugar begins to burn and smoke.