I have eaten the pork belly, and suddenly I comprehend the zealot’s gleam in Heath Putnam’s eyes when he implores buyers of his Mangalitsa pigs not to trim the fat. This fat-laden cut — belly with some small ribs — is sinfully rich and salty-sweet. By the time it left its slow braise and joined some glazed turnips and Brussels sprouts on the plate it was practically pork candy, or the pig equivalent of foie gras. It was so tender and moist it fell apart at the touch of a fork.
And more recently, Matt Wright cooked some up and pronounced it “simply un-sodding-believable.” I wish I were English, like Matt, so I could say this without people laughing at me.
Wooly’s Heath Putnam gave me a discounted piece of pork belly a couple weeks ago, and I finally got around to cooking it. It was a small piece, and I wanted to be semi-scientific about it. So rather than cooking the pork in chicken stock and white wine, like Matt and Rebekah, I braised it in salted water. I cooked it for about five hours, which was longer than necessary, but I had to leave it going while I picked Iris up from school. Then I took the pork out of the braising liquid and cranked the oven to 500°F. I salted and peppered the meat and crisped it up for 15 minutes, then sliced it into individual ribs. If this pork is as great as everyone says, I figured, it’ll be good with no help from wine, stock, aromatics, or spices.
It was. Iris was delighted with crispy pork ribs for snack, and so was I.
Now, to say that this is a niche product is an understatement. It’s mostly fat and bone, and it sells for $25/pound. I was all set to launch into an economic analysis, but then I realized: if you’re within the Wooly Pigs area, you’ve probably already decided whether this is the pork for you.