This was my first time cooking pork belly, and also my first time cooking anything confit. I found myself with a four-pound slab of pork belly and a dizzying array of options in how to cook it. Looking through a number of recipes, I finally decided on Thomas Keller’s pork belly confit recipe in Ad Hoc at Home. It would take a long time from start to finish (over 36 hours, see below), but his pictures and description of crispy, yet tender pieces of pork were enough inspiration to give it a try.
There were four “stages” to this process: brining the pork, cooking it in its fat, resting the pork in the refrigerator, and reheating the pork in smaller pieces. It was fun to see that each stage had its own purpose. The brine imparted flavor and kept the meat juicy, the long confit process slowly broke the meat down, and the rest in the fridge helped remove much of the excess fat. Finally, pan-frying the individual pieces gave the meat a crispy exterior. Since it was my first time confiting anything, I tried to stay true to the original recipe without taking shortcuts.
The results really surprised me. I was worried, given all the steps, that my pork wouldn’t come close to TK’s version, but it actually ended up being a pretty good replica. The exterior was nice and crispy, and the meat was really tender and flavorful. Yay!
Recipe in its entirety (from Ad Hoc at Home, Thomas Keller):
For the confit:
Pork Brine (recipe follows), cold
One 2 1/2-pound slab pork belly, with skin
About 6 cups (3 pounds) lard
Gray salt or coarse sea salt
Confit the pork belly
1. Pour the brine into a container large enough to hold the pork belly and add the pork. Refrigerate for 10 hours (no longer, or the pork may become too salty).
2. Remove the pork belly (discard the brine) and rinse under cold water. Pat it dry with paper towels or let air dry.
3. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Choose an ovenproof pot that is only slightly larger than the pork belly and has a lid, such as a 12-quart Dutch oven. Place the belly in the pot and cover with the lard. The lard should cover the pork by 1/2 to 3/4 inch.
4. Heat the pot over low heat until the lard registers 190°F. Cover, transfer to the oven, and cook until the pork belly is meltingly tender. This will probably take 5 1/2 to 6 hours, but start checking after 4 hours. As the belly cooks, it will lose fat and shrink. It is best to transfer the pork and fat to a smaller pot, always keeping the belly covered by fat. Remove the pot from the oven and let the pork belly cool to room temperature.
5. The pork belly can simply be refrigerated in its fat for up to 1 week. We prefer to first press it to compress the internal layers to force out some of the excess fat. This results in a better texture and appearance. To press the pork belly, transfer it to a baking dish and pour just enough lard into the dish to barely cover it. Cover the pork belly loosely with plastic wrap, place a smaller baking dish on top of it and weight it with a brick, a large can, a cast-iron skillet, or something of similar weight. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Cover and refrigerate the reserved lard. After it’s been pressed, the pork belly can be covered with some of the reserved lard and refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Serve the pork belly
1. Remove the pot from the refrigerator and let it sit in a warm spot for 2 to 3 hours. You want the lard to soften enough so you can scrape it from the pork belly and the pork to remain as cold as possible so it will be easier to slice.
2. Remove the pork belly from the lard, and wipe off any lard that clings to the meat. The lard can be reused to cook additional pork belly as long as it does not taste too salty. (To reserve the lard, pour it into a pot and heat gently to liquefy, then strain through a fine-mesh conical strainer into a storage container. Refrigerate for up to 2 months or freeze for up to 6 months.)
3. Using a sharp knife, remove the skin from the pork belly. Score the fat on the pork belly in a crosshatch pattern. Slice the pork belly or cut it into squares (actually, the belly can be cut into any shape) and let sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
5. Heat some canola oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat just until smoking. Put the pieces of pork belly, fat-side-down, in the skillet. Do not crowd the pan. (You may need to work in batches.) Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the excess fat is rendered and the fatty side is browned, about 18 minutes. You will need to pour off any excess fat about halfway through cooking. When the pork is browned, transfer the skillet to the oven until the pork belly is heated through, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the gray salt, and serve.
Pork Brine Ingredients
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey
12 bay leaves
3 large rosemary sprigs
1/2 bunch thyme
1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup garlic cloves, crushed, skin left on
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 cup (5 ounces) kosher salt, preferably Diamond Crystal
8 cups water
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Heat for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Chill before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Related: Sous Vide Pork Belly Confit