Pork Belly - [Fresh Bacon]
Most pork bellies end up cured and smoked into bacon, but fresh pork belly is widely used in Asian recipes. It is also used in Latin American recipes and in Eastern and Central European cooking.
The photo specimen is a half belly with skin, including the part that was over the spare ribs. A cross section slice is to the left. The photo specimen was 14 inches long, 10.5 inches wide, 2-1/4 inches thick at the thickest point and weighed 6 pounds 10 ounces. A whole belly would be 28 inches long and weigh about 13 pounds.
Pork bellies may also be sold with the spare ribs still attached, but this is rare in retail, except for sliced pork belly in Philippine markets which may include some cartilage and rib bones (see photo below).
Pork belly futures were once a huge item on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, but this has been changing as the market changes. Demand is more steady, so frozen pork bellies need no longer be stored for long periods and are now commonly sold immediately and often fresh. This has resulted in some pricing uncertainty and volatility in bacon prices.
More on Cuts of Pork.
Buying: Fresh pork belly can be found, usually sliced, in markets serving East and Southeast Asian communities, particularly in Philippine markets. These should generally be bought "skin on" because the skin is an important part of most recipes. Pork belly can also be found in markets serving Mexican communities.
Philippine markets here in Southern California have the widest selection, selling belly ribs on, ribs removed, slices with or without ribs, and cubes (without ribs). The skin is always included.
Cooking: In Asian cooking the belly is generally cut into strips about 3/8 thick, 3/8 to 3/4 inches wide and in length the thickness of the belly, but may also be cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Cubes an inch on a side and larger are also used.
Pork belly recipes are are often quite rich due to the fat layers. I have also used the boneless end of a side of spare ribs which is leaner, but you mustn't go too lean or the recipe simply won't work right.
European recipes often call for a large square of the belly, score the skin side, rub with herbs and spices, and roast in a moderate oven until nearly all the fat has rendered out and the skin is crisp. It still isn't really low calorie though.