Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pork Belly is Actually Uncured Bacon, Who Knew?

Okay, I feel a little duped by fine dining restaurants. Over the years, I’ve ordered many dishes and renderings of pork belly. I had always thought of pork belly as one of those risqué yet oddly luxurious dishes for a chef to make. Without asking questions or researching, I had always imagined pork belly was derived from the lining of a pigs stomach - -is that weird? Let me remind the audience, I am an aspiring self-taught Chef, still in Training!! I guess I associate the word belly, with stomach lining. I never knew why pork belly was so fatty and delicious; whenever I ordered pork belly I just assumed the chef was really talented in working with stomach lining, ha!

All of my misconceptions about pork belly were shattered this weekend. On Friday night I attended a Cocktail Event at The Viking Store for the Food Blog Forum Seminar here in Atlanta. The renowned Chef Kevin Rathbun, of Rathbuns graciously created two Pork Belly dishes for us.

At the beginning of the demonstration, Chef Rathbun held up the first pork belly slab as if he were holding-up a golden trophy and said, “Ya’ll know that Pork Belly is just a fancy word for “bacon”, right?” Everyone in demo kitchen nodded their heads in agreement, like they were saying “of course we knew that Pork Belly was bacon”. Jaden from Steamy Kitchen chimed in, “Yeah, you can charge $4 more per pound when you call it pork belly.” All the while, I’m in a state of mass confusion. Pork belly is uncured bacon, I had no idea!

Kevin Rathbun made two dishes for us; the first was a pork belly and watermelon skewer – sweet and salty, balancing textures with the fruit and meat. And the other dish was a pork belly taco with homemade hoisen in a flour tortilla - yumm. During the demonstration, Chef Rathbun explained the long process of curing meat – chilling it at a certain temperature, wrapping it in cloth, draining the liquids for weeks or more at a time. We watched him create a rub with various salts, pepper, and garlic and massage it into the slab of pork belly. Watching his demonstration made me think of him as a “manly” chef. I started thinking that maybe male chefs cure meats as a form of expressing their masculinity in cooking – just a thought.

Since watching Chef Rathbun, I decided to do a little reasearch of my own at Whole Foods. I spoke with Larry the butcher at Whole Foods and asked him for a slice of pork belly. I must have had an unsure look on my face, because Larry's first comment to me was "You know that pork belly is really bacon, right?" Ha! Before I scurried off with my new slab of pork belly I asked him to hold up the entire slab of pork belly for inspection. Of course Larry held up that meat like it was a trophy. "The other white meat" trophy, to be exact. Classic.

I have to say, I’m thrilled to know the truth about pork belly. Now I know what I’m eating when I order it! Since Chef Rathbun’s demonstration I’ve been perusing my friend Jason Molinari’s cured meats blog. People, it's impressive. Check it out:

Jason hosts an annual “Sausage Fest” every year (okay I know what you’re thinking), but he’s agreed to let me watch him make Sausage for this years Annual event. This is exciting to me as I will obviously fully document the sausage making. Stay tuned!

Mandy Lea


  1. Okay, so what the heck are you going to do with your slab?? Funny, it nevery occured to me that someone might think that pork belly was stomach lining, but it makes total sense.

    My grandfather owned a hog farm when I was growing up, so I'm super familiar with ALL pig parts...honestly think I've probably eaten just about all of them at one point in time!

  2. Not sure what to do with my slab - - it looks so pretty with that sprig of rosemary! Maybe roast it on some Mirepoix, and make tacos like Chef Rathbun!

    Yeah, I have a feeling that with this self taught chef journey I'll have quite a few 'lighting bulb' moments - - or 'blonde moments', let's be honest.

    You definitely have an advantage with your grandfather owning a hog farm, wow! I will definitely be consulting you on all matters pig!

  3. Mandy,
    I had no idea that pork belly was what it is. Guess I should have growing up in south ga.!! Thanks for posting.

  4. Sommer, I'm so glad someone else didn't realize what pork belly was!

  5. Mandy,
    I'm typing this comment in hiding because my former hog-farmer husband is sitting in the room with me.
    As I already told you, I didn't know what pork belly was! Yikes! Don't tell the hubby! :D

    PS-I love that your friend named his party "Sausage Fest." Witty people make me smile! :D