Salt pork belly adds incomparable flavor, but is it easy to cook, and what do you do with it?
I’ve made all types of cured meats, and salt pork definitely falls into this category too. And all you need really 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, then 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 a variety of 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.
Continue reading to learn more about how to cook salt pork belly and what types of dishes to include it in.
Commercial vs. Traditional Salt Pork
Depending on what type of dish and associated flavor you are attempting to prepare will likely determine the type of salt pork belly that you choose. You might select a more lean option, or you might want the flavor that will come from a fattier selection.
Regardless of the cut of salt pork that you choose, you need to recognize that commercial and traditional salt pork has a few differences. These can transform your dish in both positive and negative ways.
But, ultimately it comes down to knowing how to use the differing versions of this meat appropriately.
First, recognize that commercial salt pork is going to be packaged and sealed and readily available at your local grocery store or butchery.
Traditional salt pork, on the other hand, will be prepared by you or someone you know and packed in a container that has layers of pork belly between layers of salt (and sometimes a sugar mixture added in).
The variation in packaging is important 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.
On the other hand, when using traditional salt pork, you might be able to use small portions and then reseal the container. This will depend, of course, on who and how the traditional salt pork was packaged and prepared by. If it was you, then you should know which pieces fall where and how to reseal your container tightly.
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 out of its container, you will need to rinse the salt off 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, pay attention to if it was dry-cured (more commonly seen with traditional salt pork) or prepared with a wet brine (which will be noticeable when you open a commercially prepared salt pork variety. This will change the way you cook it as you will need to either drain the wet brine or not.
Regardless of if the salt pork belly that you are using is commercially or traditionally made, you are still in for an explosion of flavor that will be added to your favorite dishes.
So, if you have never prepared salt pork before, then get ready for your taste buds to be transformed.
Methods to Cook Salt Pork
Dreaming of fall in New England will likely bring to mind many things including a popular food that will warm your heart and taste buds.
New England Clam Chowder made with delicious Salt Pork Belly.
You may have also seen salt pork bits amidst the most recent batch of baked beans that you were 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 it is fried.
When rendering the fat, you can use the salt pork in slices similar to how you would cook 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 to. Either way, you will be separating 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 rest of the ingredients you are using to cook baked beans, for example.
You will simply cube the meat into chunks and watch as the meat cooks and its fat infuses into the dish that it is being cooked into.
Finally, you can fry the bits of salt pork to make crispy toppings. You can use the components that were 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 small 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.
5 Great Ideas to Use Salt Pork
There are so many ways that you can use salt pork, though you should recognize that none of them are going to be particularly healthy. You can stick with the classics, or add your own twist. Either way, here are 5 great ideas to use salt pork with:
1. Clam Chowder
A classic staple in the fall, using the rendered fat from salt pork belly is considered to be non-negotiable for anyone stemming from the New England region.
The rendered fat from the salt pork is what enhances the savory flavor that is infused into this dish. Clam chowder can be served year-round, but it is most frequently enjoyed in the cooler fall/winter months.
2. Baked Beans
Another classic use for salt pork is the classic baked beans. If you are looking for a way to add some extra flavor to your staple pot of beans, then adding in salt pork is the way to go.
Not only will you get the flavor that comes from the fatty portion, but you will get the texture that is added into the dish through the delicious meat.
Many people from Polish descent rave about their grandmother’s popular 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.
4. Green Vegetables
Whether you are cooking green beans, asparagus, or brussel sprouts, salt pork is a great way to add flavor to your otherwise healthy dish.
You can use the rendered fat from salt pork as the base of your vegetables, or you can top your dish with the fried bits for a little added flavor.
5. Potatoes (Mashed or Baked)
Another savory option for using your salt pork is to use it like a gravy over the top of your potatoes.
You can use the rendered fat to mix into mashed potatoes (after you have added the other seasonings and components), or you can serve it over the top. You can do either option for baked potatoes, too, or you can use the fried bits as a garnish.
Thanks for dropping by, I’ve been passionate about meat curing for around 20 years now. Having been lucky enough to learn inside fine dining kitchens through to backyard smoking sessions. From doing courses, trial & error and reading extensively – finally, I thought it was time to share my passion online.
My insatiable appetite and passion toward classic Italian dry-cured salumi and all forms of curing and smoking are what drives this website engine. All the best, Tom