Pork belly might be the world’s most popular and beloved food. It’s considered a delicacy in dozens of countries throughout Asia, Europe, and South America.
And we love our pork belly here in the States too… as proven by the menus of tapas bars and bistros across the country. As a testament to its popularity, the USDA reports that in 2017 national inventories of frozen pork belly hit their lowest levels in 50 years.
Today, we talk about why pork belly is so widely loved, how it can be a very healthy addition to your diet, and the quickest, most delicious pork belly recipe you’ll ever enjoy.
Pork Belly: The Ultimate Meat Treat
Pork belly is essentially “better bacon”. It has more meat, more healthy fat, and greater culinary complexity. One delicious bite of pork belly can be delightfully crisp, and yet succulently tender. It’s packed with the savory flavor of meat and satisfies our carnal urge for fat.
In a culinary article on the wonders of pork belly, writer Chris Thompson put it about as well as it can be said:
Finished pork belly will present many of the enjoyable characteristics of bacon, along with welcome textural complexity and an ecstatic diversity of flavor, bite to bite and even chew to chew, that will make your tongue stand up in your mouth and shout about being King of the World.
Pork belly is so delicious, you probably feel guilty eating it. You might think to yourself, “This is so good, it has to be bad for me!” The truth is that this porcine delicacy can be a very healthy part of your diet (as long as you choose the right kind of pork and prepare it in a healthy way)!
Is Pork Belly Healthy to Consume?
As you probably know, conventional pork is not the way to go. They are fed a diet based on grains designed to fatten them as quickly as possible. They are also routinely administered antibiotics.
Pastured pork, on the other hand, comes from animals that are fed a natural diet and allowed to roam and root. Research shows that meat from pastured pigs packs far more nutrients than those raised in confinement operations. Compared to conventional, pastured pork boasts 300% more vitamin E and 74% more selenium – two powerful, anti-aging, and anti-cancer nutrients[*].
Pastured pork is also a rich source of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B12, as well as a good source of various trace minerals.
But what about the fat? Good news to report there too, because…
The Fat in Pork Belly Is Healthy
About 50 percent of the fat in pork belly is monounsaturated. These are the same heart-healthy fatty acids associated with the benefits of the “Mediterranean Diet” and for which avocado and olive oils are praised. These fats are known to help reduce belly fat, boost your good cholesterol, and guard against cancer.
Another 40 percent of the fat in pork belly is saturated. This is another healthy fat to consume, despite outdated nutritional dogma to the contrary.
The remaining 10 percent of the fat is polyunsaturated. These fatty acids include omega-6s and omega-3s. While omega-6s are essential in the diet, most people consume too much of these fats. In excess, they’re associated with oxidation and inflammation. But the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3s depends greatly on what feed the animals consume. Pigs fed a natural diet have much lower levels of omega6 and higher levels of omega-3s[*].
In fact, due to their basic biology, pastured pigs can be a great source of the omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) that are known to help prevent heart disease and boost your brainpower. Dr. Loren Cordain, one of the earliest adopters of the Paleo diet, writes:
Because pigs are mono-gastric animals (single stomach), they have the ability to convert vegetable and plant 18 carbon fatty acids (ALA) to the 20 and 22 carbon fatty acids (EPA and DHA) which reduce inflammation, reduce cardiovascular disease and promote good health. Free-ranging pork contains higher concentrations of these beneficial fatty acids than their feedlot produced counterparts.
So, let’s get cookin’…
A Simple and Versatile Pork Belly Recipe
Pork belly can be surprisingly difficult to cook. If you don’t cook it long enough, it can be very tough. On the other hand, if you cook it too long (or in an environment that’s too dry) it can become dried out and as tough as shoe leather.
Today, using the amazing Instant Pot, I’ll show you how to prepare pork belly faster than any other method. It will be fall-apart tender and yet crispy in all the right places!
Pork belly recipes are often associated with Asian flavors, because of the popularity of the dish in that region. South Koreans apparently enjoy pork belly in over half of their meals on average[*]!
I wanted to tackle this decadent cut with simple flavors so you could enjoy it in a number of different ways.
In today’s recipe, I use manzanilla sherry to add a layer of depth beyond the delicious and savory meat. Smoked paprika rounds out the zesty wine for a complete, yet simple, flavor profile. If sherry is hard to come by, dry white wine or even apple cider vinegar will do the trick!
And of course, pork belly is a fine complement to other meals, so be sure to keep some on hand for taco night, Paleo sandwiches, and a decadent breakfast of runny eggs and Keto Drop Biscuits for Sunday morning.
If you’re aiming for something more traditional, you can easily change the seasonings. Instead of paprika, try a rub of ground thyme, sage, and rosemary for a classic French approach.
Or if you wanted to pay homage to the region where it’s most popular, rub the pork belly with ground ginger or a Chinese Five-Spice blend and add some fresh sliced ginger to the broth before cooking. I like to garnish this style with sesame seeds and sliced scallions.
For purists: High-quality sea salt and pepper let the indescribably delicious texture and flavor of pork belly shine through.
The glory of pork belly is how flexible it can be, so get creative with your favorite toppings and experiment to create your own signature pork belly recipe!
The Perfect Pork Belly Recipe (in 75% Less Time!)
In a traditional recipe, pork belly can take over six hours to roast. And it needs regular tending during that time.
If you don’t have half a day to spare in the kitchen, you’ll love what you can do with the Instant Pot. This magical device cuts cooking time down to just under an hour and a half. And that’s hands-free time, so you can tend to other things.
The pork belly recipe below calls for just five minutes of prep. The Instant Pot does the rest.
Once it’s done “roasting”, I like to give it a crispy oven sear with decadent duck fat… and voila!
Crispy, juicy, rich pork belly bites are ready and waiting! So, what are you waiting for?
- 5 lb. pastured fresh pork belly (skinless)
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tsp. thyme
- 4 cloves of garlic (sliced or chopped)
- ½ cup of broth
- ¼ cup sherry (or white wine)
- 2 Tbsp. duck fat (or tallow, lard, or coconut oil)
- Rub the fatty side of the pork belly with the salt-spice mixture.
- Pour the broth and the sherry into the Instant Pot.
- Now place the pork belly in the instant pot, spice side up.
- Close and lock the lid. Set the pressure to HIGH and the time to 80 minutes.
- A few minutes before the time is up, preheat your oven to 400 F. Place a couple of tablespoons of duck fat in a cast iron pan. Transfer the pan to the oven to get nice and hot.
- When the time is up, use two spatulas to lift the cooked pork belly out of the Instant Pot. It will be very tender and may fall apart if you use tongs. Remove any large bits of garlic or spice and place the pork belly fat side down in the preheated cast iron pan.
- If your pork belly has curled, top it with another cast iron pan to weigh it down. Then pop into the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or to your desired crispness.
- Allow to cool slightly, then gently transfer to a cutting board.
- Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut into cubes.
- Sprinkle with a little more sea salt (Maldon is preferred).
Nutrition (Per Serving):
340 calories, 33 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 15 g monounsaturated fat, 4 g polyunsaturated fat, 44 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrate, 2 g NET carbs, 0 g sugar alcohols, 0 g sugar, 0 g fiber, 6 g protein, 141 mg potassium, 69 mg phosphorous, 314 mg sodium, 4 mg magnesium
Ed Note: Need some kitchen inspiration? Grab Kelley’s free guide – Instant Pot Keto Dinners – made exclusively with Paleo-and-Keto ingredients, for quick and delicious meals that taste just as good – of not better – than your restaurant favorites. Get your free guide here.