Americans love bacon, but I confidently venture to say that most have never cooked pork belly. Now that we have cooked this cut of pork, which comes from the belly of the pig as its name suggests, we can say those diners who still haven’t experienced it are missing out on a special treat. It has all the flavor of bacon (because it essentially comes from the same place on the pig) with a much richer and denser texture.
Before making this recipe, which comes from a Vietnamese cook named Ly Nguyen, we’d never purchased pork belly before. We weren’t even sure if we’d find it in our local grocery stores, and we didn’t until we visited a special Hispanic market (WoW Supermarket in Gastonia, North Carolina) that we occasionally step into for certain unique items.
Sliced pork belly looks very much like bacon from the top. It’s just thicker because it hasn’t been sliced into bacon. When it’s cut into chunks and cooked using this recipe it reminds us more of a taste and texture we find at quick-service Japanese restaurants in our part of the American South. This recipe uses brown sugar and pepper to make a sauce for the pork, and it uses scallions (green onions) and chile peppers for a pop of flavor to balance with the sweet pork and smooth rice.
Ly Nguyen’s recipe, which we found in a book titled “The World Eats Here” (about the people and foods at the Queens Night Market in New York) that a family member gave us for Christmas, also uses fish sauce. We looked at many stores in our community, including the Hispanic market that sells many unique sauces, and we weren’t able to find a true fish sauce. I did a little research online to see if another sauce could substitute for fish sauce. In doing that I discovered that many cooks suggest not using soy sauce in lieu of fish sauce. Those cooks say that fish sauce is, as the name suggests, more fishy, while soy sauce is more salty. You can use soy sauce, but it will be a different experience from the original recipe. If we can find fish sauce sometime, we will try it.
Ly’s recipe calls this “Braised Pork Belly,” and it shares that this is a key Vietnamese dish that many families eat every week. We changed the name to “Sweet & Savory” because we believe most casual home cooks aren’t familiar with the term “braise,” which means to fry lightly and then stew in a closed container. Essentially, you are slightly frying and slightly stewing the pork in this recipe.
Whatever you call this dish, it’s delicious and so satisfyingly homey. We could eat this every week for sure! We hope you enjoy it, too! If you make it, let us know and share a picture with us on the comments of this post or on our Facebook page or Twitter feed!
Sweet & Savory Pork Belly
What You Need:
1 pound sliced pork belly (Our package contained about 1.5 pounds.)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
chopped scallions (green onions) to taste
diced jalapenos (or Thai chiles) to taste
1/4 cup fish sauce (optional)
What You Do:
1. Cut your pork belly into cubes about three-quarters of an inch in size. (#FoodieScore Pro Tip: We suggest using sharp kitchen shears instead of a knife to get through the pork. We also use shears to cut bacon.) It’s up to you whether you keep your skin on the pork. It might add a bit of flavor but also adds a chewiness in this recipe that some eaters might not prefer. Remove the skin if you’re uncertain.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until caramelized, about 90 seconds. Be careful to not burn the sugar.
3. Turn the heat to low, and add the pork while continuing to stir. Cook the pork until it’s done all the way through. This should take about 15 minutes.
4. Add the remaining brown sugar, and continue stirring over low heat until the sauce reduces to a dark brown color, about 10 minutes. (You can also add the fish sauce, if you have it, along with the sugar during this time.)
5. Cook your rice how you prefer (we like quick-cook rice we buy at Aldi and microwave to perfection in 6 minutes) and top with the pork mixture. Garnish with the peppers and onions. (We de-seed our jalapenos because we don’t like too much spicy heat.) Serve hot.