Some ingredients, when slapped on the title of any dish, make for the simplest way to lure in diners. While we all have our fair share of cravings and food preferences, seeing the name of some popular fruits or meat can set our hunger on high. And this is very much the case for pork belly, which you might know better as liempo.
This cut of pork is most often defined as a crowd pleaser. This is because of how easily its flavor and tender texture can entice your taste buds. And with the Philippines’ love for various grilled meats, this ingredient can be seen in several Filipino recipes. If you are just as much a fan of pork belly as the majority are, keep reading to get some background on the meat. And read about how much delectable goodness you can make of it with some Panlasang Pinoy recipes.
Where does the pork belly come from?
One of the distinguishing characteristics of this pork cut is how juicy and tender it tastes when cooked just right. Coming from the pig’s underside after you take off the spareribs and loin, it is naturally savory. That, and it is a boneless, fatty cut that works incredibly well with different types of cooking methods.
You might easily recognize pork belly for its variation with a crispy, golden skin. But it also works amazingly well when grilled and coated with a rich sauce. But if you want it at its softest, and most tender, braising or frying your pork in a covered pot is known to be one of the best ways to attain this, alongside other slow-cooking methods.
Another benefit there is to this part of the pig is its accessibility and affordability. You can find it in most markets, and for a comparably low price. This is because it is often only the starting point for many meat variations you might be familiar with. For one, various kinds of sausage meat do contain a hefty deal of pork belly. And of course, it can also be turned into one very popular ingredient– bacon.
What is the difference between bacon and pork belly?
Most people end up confused with the difference between these two, and understandably so. They have similar flavors, and that is because bacon is a cured, smoked and salted version of pork belly. To make this, they cut pork belly into the bacon strips we often see.
Luckily, bacon is another pork cut you can find in most local markets. And it also isn’t too pricey for meat. If you ever find yourself wondering how to make the most of your bacon, check out this article. It has all the tips on cooking these thin, crunchy strips of pork belly! But if you are interested in finding some of this pork cut prior to the curing process, I also have some advice that’ll come in handy for choosing them in the market.
How do I pick a good pork belly?
One great indicator of the quality and freshness of your pork belly is its color. Given that the cut we are looking for comes from the pig’s abdomen, we can count on seeing some fat. A nice, white colour for the fat of the pork belly is a good sign of freshness. Yellow or greying fat can mean a more worn and old meat cut.
It is also ideal that you get even amounts of flesh and fat in your pork belly. If you can, try to look for one with equal parts of these two. And look at the width of layers of fat between the muscles. This should benefit you largely later on when you cook a good pork belly cut with a little bit of the tenderness of the fat, as well as the thick texture and flavor of the flesh part. Additionally, you should look out for a generally pink pork belly with a firmer, dense texture. Also try to steer away from any signs of sliminess.
But despite the general availability and high supply of pork belly in most areas, there can be cases wherein you end up with none. If you find yourself in a situation as such, but are craving for a recipe that asks for liempo, I have some fitting suggestions. One of the best parts of cooking truly is the experimentation with various ingredients. And so feel free to try some alternatives!
What can I replace pork belly with?
Because of the wide range of meat cuts with versatility in flavor, it actually isn’t too hard to find a decent pork belly substitute. For one, you can take the same part of the cow to mimic our pork belly’s flavor. Beef bacon comes from the cow’s belly. And it has an overall taste that we can liken to pork belly. However, it can be less crispy because of its higher melting point than pork. And because beef is generally leaner, it may not be as naturally juicy as pork. But on the bright side, people often resort to this alternative easily. This is because it is notably healthier with much less fat.
Of course, you also can’t discount other cuts of pork to serve as a fitting alternative. The fat that you can find on the pig’s backbone, also known as fatback, can also take the place of pork belly. This is because both have a wealthy amount of succulent fat, as well as similar flavor. However, fatback has significantly higher fat content so unlike our previous option, it does not make for a more nutritious choice. But to make up for the flavor lost with less flesh, you can always add more seasonings, and incorporate some vegetables for the best texture.
What about some vegan substitutes?
If you are on a vegan diet, fret not because the alternatives certainly don’t stop at meat. Dried soy, which can be easily found in most markets, can make for a fantastic replacement for pork belly. It is actually quite popular as a meat substitute in general. But to help copy the taste of pork belly, you can utilize some pork seasonings, and follow most recipes with the fatty cut, as the spices used can also help bring out that similar taste.
Another subsitute you might want to keep an eye out for is Tempeh. It is considered a superfood with great health benefits, and has an undeniably close texture to meat. Composed of fermented and processed grains and soybeans, it is usually packaged as a frozen good like most meat. This is not as well-known as a meat alternative. But you can actually find it in most organic or health food shops and markets in the Philippines and other countries.
Now that you’ve got a handle on the basics of pork belly, as well as some other ingredients that can fittingly take its place, you might be ready to take on the challenge of working with some great recipes!
What dishes can I try to make with pork belly?
When in doubt, one sure-fire way of getting the best of most meats is grilling it. That is, if you’re doing it right. Sometimes, it can be tricky to heat food up over charcoal and ensure that it is cooked all the way through without toasting it to a blackened crisp. But that is why I have this Grilled Pork Belly recipe for you to follow with ease.
Other than easy steps towards grilling, it has all the essentials to lead you towards the perfectly classic grilled liempo. We have a deliciously potent marinade that can permeate our pork belly and give it an abundance of flavor within an hour. The result is, of course, an unquestionably rich and tender set of beautifully cut meat.
If you’ve had your fair share of Filipino family gatherings, this Lechon Liempo might be an extremely familiar dish. And with that familiarity, I’d guess you’d also regularly be having cravings towards this savory, juicy dish with that audible crisp at every bite. Because of its popularity, it might not be all that affordable to buy in stores. But worry not because I have the guide to help you make it, yourself!
This comes with all of the details to make a roasted pork belly that’s good enough for a group of 8. And we also utilize some of the best, but accessible seasonings to bring our slab of pork belly’s flavor to life.
Having your first go at a set of pork rinds should feel like a new world of crispiness is opened up to you. But if you’re ready to take that one step further, you should definitely try this Crispy Pork Belly Chicharon recipe. It has all the beautiful perks in flavor and texture of your regular chicharon, and a little bit more.
It has the meatier flavor of our liempo, but with far more crunch! And if you are looking to have this in a slightly healthier way with less oil use, you can use your air fryer. It also makes for a great snack to pop into your mouth in between work or hangouts with friends.
This is another popular way of having your liempo, and this comes as no surprise. What with a gloriously crunchy coat of skin, and an evidently tasty interior infused with 5 spice powder, Shaoxing cooking wine, and sea salt, it makes up a most promising recipe for our delicious meat cut.
It may take a bit more time to make– over 2 hours in total– but the work pays off with a mouthwatering result. The soft belly only enhances its meaty flavor, as well as the crispy skin. No wonder we love to have this as pulutan in most celebrations, as well as just having it as the best ulam to a fresh cup of rice. Were your cravings for liempo awakened? Let us know any questions you might have about pork belly, and the recipes we’ve got for you, in the comments section!