Crispy, crunchy pork belly is one of our favourite things in the entire world, but there is so much more to pork belly than just crackling. To help you include more pork in your diet, we’ve created our beginner’s guide to pork belly.

As part of our new Back to Basics series, we’re going to be looking at some common ingredients to help make sure our readers are making the most of the great produce that we have access to here in Ireland. Previously we looked at scallops, housekeeper’s cut of beef and chicken thighs; today we're looking at pork belly.

Pork belly is a delicious and flavourful cut of pork from the underside of the pig. Belly is very fatty, but incredibly tender when cooked properly. In order to extract as much flavour as possible from the cut, it needs to be handled and cooked carefully, usually through slow cooking.

Pork is the most widely consumed red meat in the world, particularly in eastern Asia, but its consumption is forbidden in certain religions, including Islam and Judaism. Aside from being very fatty, pork belly is high in protein, as well as being a good source of thiamin, selenium vitamin B12 and iron.

The whole pork belly joint is quite long, with the ribs at one end. The ribs can be removed and cooked separately, whole or individually as spare ribs, which is a popular way of cooking them in Asian cuisine. The whole belly is popularly served as a Sunday roast, where it has been cooked slowly for several hours until most of the fat melts away and the top layer becomes super crispy, crunchy and golden. Cured pork belly is also used to make streaky bacon and pancetta.

Pork belly is popular in countries around the world, particularly in South Korea where demand is so high that it is often imported from Belgium and the Netherlands, making it very expensive. It’s widely consumed both at home and in restaurants, particularly as part of Korean barbecue. 

Pork belly dinner. Photo: Getty Images.

Pork belly dinner. Photo: Getty Images.

To roast the perfect pork belly, you’ll need to allow a lot of time for it to cook. First up, the best place to buy this cut is from your butcher as they’ll be able to prepare the pork properly for you, including trimming, boning and rolling the pork. Scoring the skin is often important because it will help to encourage the fat to render out properly, however, the skin is quite tough, so it’s best to get your butcher to do this too.

Another thing that will help the fat to break down is salting the pork; this will help to draw out the fat and dry it out. Some recipes require a spice or herb paste to be rubbed on the meat before cooking; to help infuse the flavour, leave the meat to marinate in the fridge overnight.

Slow-cooking the pork at a low temperature, then raising the temperature to crisp the skin is the best way to cook pork belly, as this will ensure that the pork is succulent and tender. You’ll know that the pork is ready when its juices run clear or it reads above 75oC on a thermometer.

Looking for a great way to enjoy pork belly? Try out Asian pork belly sandwiches with sriracha aioli from Oxmantown or Alex Petit’s five spice pork belly with cauliflower, cabbage and pumpkin.

Alex Petit's five spice Rosscarbery pork belly.

Alex Petit's five spice Rosscarbery pork belly.

How do you like to cook pork belly? Let us know in the comments.