As expected the ‘favorite cut of pork’ poll went heavy on the bacon/belly lovers. I really should have broken those two up. Bacon is belly, but a slice of bacon, as in ‘bacon and eggs’ is so distant from a hunk of roasted belly. Unfortunately cooking pork belly, or turning it into bacon is something done quite rarely in the home kitchen. Really the most difficult part is finding a reasonably sized piece of raw belly.
You can skip the chain grocery store since I’ve never seen pork belly there. A good start is the West Side Market. There are multiple vendors there selling raw belly and unsliced bacon. Try to purchase a piece that is of a consistent thickness with a good amount of meat. Generally the thicker end has too little fat and tends to be tough while the thinner end has almost no meat, and we don’t want that extreme either. I’ve made this recipe quite a few times now, and every time I do I pledge to do it again only sooner.
3 lb section of center cut pork belly, skin and bones removed
1 cup each sugar and salt
1 tblsp crushed red pepper
¼ pound fresh thyme
Mix everything together and put in a zip lock bag. Keep refrigerated and flip the bag over every day for 5-6 days. The meat will lose some moisture and firm up.
At this point rinse of the pork of excess curing mix and dry it off. Roast in a 250 degree oven, preferably on a rack for at least an hour or until an internal temperature of 160 is reached.
This recipe produces a rather sweet end product but a little heat and herb flavor keeps the sweetness from being overpowering. This roasted belly is quite versatile, it can by sliced thin and fried like bacon or diced up and crisped yielding a crispy outside and soft interior. Since it is fully cooked it can be enjoyed chilled as well. Be aware that since there is no nitrites the pork will be brown instead of red like the bacon at the grocery store this does not mean the meat is bad.