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Salt pork belly adds incomparable flavor, but is it easy to cook, and what do you do with it?
Here are some useful ideas with recipes and a helpful rundown on what salt pork is, since I make it – I know a little more than your average food blogger.
I’ve made all types of cured meats, and salt pork falls into this category too. And all you need is salt + pork.
Salt pork belly is a delicious option to add to many dishes. Its cultural infusion into a variety of dishes adds indescribable flavor. But if your grandma did not teach you, you might not know how to prepare it.
Is Salt Pork Belly Easy to Cook?
Salt pork belly can be easily cooked in three main ways. Rendering the fat for its flavor, adding cubes directly into a dish, and frying small crispy bits as an exterior garnish. You can use it in various dishes, including New England Clam Chowder, Boston Baked Beans, or your favorite vegetable.
Whether you are following a recipe that has been passed down in your family for generations, or you have just happened upon the first recipe that you have used with salt pork belly (or salt pork), there are endless possibilities with this meat selection.
Easy Cooking with Salt Pork
You may have also seen salt pork bits amidst the most recent batch of baked beans served. Or, perhaps, you enjoyed the crispy bits of salt pork that were atop the sauerkraut that your grandmother prepared.
Each of these three dishes uses three of the main methods to cook salt pork:
- rendering the fat
- adding directly to the dish
- frying into crispy bits
The three variations each focus on different components of the meat. Respectively, these include the flavor from the fat, protein from the meat, and texture when fried.
When rendering the fat, you can use the salt pork in slices, similar to cooking bacon.
Then, you will pour the fat into a container to be used as a base for your vegetables or infused into a chowder, or you can remove the cooked meat and use the pot (containing the rendered fat) to add the rest of your ingredients. Either way, you will separate the rendered fat (byproduct) from the meaty components.
Another alternative is placing the salt pork into your dish- such as into the crockpot with the other ingredients you are using to cook baked beans, for example.
You will simply cube the meat into chunks and watch as it cooks and its fat infuses into the dish it is being cooked into.
Finally, you can fry the bits of salt pork to make crispy toppings. You can use the components separated from the rendered fat if you wish to be resourceful, but you should recognize that these will (obviously) not have the fat (as it has been rendered) that will give them their distinct flavor.
Instead, you can choose to cut the salt pork into tiny bits- roughly 2-3 times larger than the size that you hope for them to turn into.
They will cook down a decent bit, so cutting them slightly larger will help to achieve the desired size. Then, fry them and use the crispy bits to top your favorite food.
Great Easy Ideas to Use Salt Pork
There are so many ways you can use salt pork, though you should recognize that none of them will be particularly healthy. You can stick with the classics or add your twist. Either way, here are some easy ideas to use salt pork (also more ideas in another article I wrote) with:
1. Clam Chowder
A classic staple in the fall, using the rendered fat from salt pork belly is considered non-negotiable for anyone from the New England region (America).
The rendered fat from the salt pork enhances the savory flavor infused into this dish. Clam chowder can be served year-round but is most frequently enjoyed in the cooler fall/winter months.
Clam Chowder Easy Recipes:
2. Baked Beans
Another easy classic use for salt pork is the traditional baked beans. If you want to add some extra flavor to your staple pot of beans, then adding salt pork is the way to go.
I prefer lots of herbs like cumin, paprika, and, of course, garlic and onions.
Not only will you get the flavor from the fatty portion, but you will also get the texture added to the dish through the delicious meat.
Links to Easy Recipes:
Many people of Polish, German, or many other Central and Eastern European descent rave about their grandmother’s famous sauerkraut that brings them back to their childhood memories.
And, while sauerkraut can be delicious when served alone, it is even more scrumptious when it has a little crispy texture added to it from fried salt pork bits.
Just chop up salt pork and cook it with sauerkraut; no need for a recipe for that one!
4. Green Vegetables
Whether you are cooking green beans, asparagus, or brussel sprouts, salt pork is a great way to flavor your green fiber dishes.
You can use the rendered fat from salt pork as the base of your vegetables or top your dish with the fried bits for a little added flavor.
5. Potatoes (Mashed or Baked)
Another savory option for using salt pork is to use it like gravy over the top of your potatoes.
You can use the rendered fat to mix into mashed potatoes (after adding the other seasonings and components), or you can serve it over the top. You can do either option for baked potatoes, too, or use the fried bits as a garnish.
Commercial vs. Traditional Salt Pork
Depending on what type of dish and associated flavor you are attempting to prepare will likely determine the kind of salt pork belly that you choose. You might select a leaner option, or you might want the flavor that will come from a fattier selection.
Regardless of the cut of salt pork you choose, you need to recognize that commercial and traditional salt pork have a few differences. These can transform your dish in both positive and negative ways.
First, recognize that commercial salt pork will be packaged and sealed and readily available at your local grocery store or butchery.
On the other hand, traditional salt pork will be prepared by you or someone you know and packed in a container with layers of pork belly between layers of salt (and sometimes a sugar mixture added in).
The variation in packaging is essential to note as it will change your ability to cook with it. When using commercial salt pork, you will likely need to include the entire contents of the package in the dish that you are consuming, as it will not be able to be resealed.
In my experience, often one week, a maximum of two once a commercial package is opened.
On the other hand, when using traditional (or homemade) salt pork, you might be able just to cut a section and then put the rest in the fridge or cellar.
A non-package type of salt pork is designed to hang and, being heavily preserved with salt, can last months, if not years.
This will depend, of course, on who and how the traditional salt pork was prepared.
Outside of packaging, you will want to pay attention to the saltiness of the two types of salt pork. Since you will be taking traditional salt pork from its container, you must rinse the salt yourself.
Some commercial salt pork comes pre-rinsed, though, so it will have much less saltiness and can be cooked as soon as it is unpackaged.
Finally, please pay attention to whether it was dry-cured (more commonly seen with traditional salt pork) or prepared with a wet cure/brine (which will be noticeable when you open a commercially prepared salt pork variety. This will change how you cook it as you must drain the wet brine either way or not.
Whether the salt pork belly you use is commercially or traditionally made, you are still in for an explosion of flavor that will be added to your favorite dishes.
I wrote another article here for more information on Salt Pork and How To Make it.