Low and Slow: Braised Pork Belly with Kabocha Squash
Braising is such a warm and comforting cooking method that it’s perfect for fall and winter. Few cuts of meats braise better than pork belly.
A long, low-heat braise yields an amazingly soft pork belly, the kind of pork belly that gives way under a mere gentle press of the fork. As it braises, the layers of fat slowly melt over the slabs of meat, leaving them tender and juicy.
After braising, give the pork belly another element of texture by quickly crisping up the outer layer on a hot pan. When taking a bite, that thin, crisp outer surface contrasted against the meltingly soft center is pure delight to the senses. This also will reheat the pork belly, enabling it to be braised long before serving time, and then quickly heated and crisped up when ready to serve.
The braised pork belly leaves behind such an amazing broth, it’s a shame to waste it. Take advantage of the incredible winter squash available and use the remaining braising liquid to cook up a hearty squash to serve with the pork belly.
Kabocha squash is a great variety to use in the braise -- the skin is thin enough that it doesn’t need peeling before braising. The flavor and texture marry well with the pork belly, providing a perfect comforting backdrop to the meat.
Combined together, the squash braised in the pork belly’s broth, and the soft yet crisped pork belly make an amazing cold-weather comfort dish. Simple to prepare and cook, the only thing this recipe needs is time and a little technique.
Braising slow and low takes time but yields incredible results. After braising, the pork belly is going be reheated for serving when crisped up in a sauté pan, so if you'll be rushed for time on the day you want to serve the pork belly, you can always braise everything a day ahead of time then just reheat the squash and crisp up the pork belly when ready to serve.
- 3-pound slab of pork belly, cut into 2"-wide strips
- Sea salt
- Fresh cracked black pepper
- Spices to suit your mood (some of our favorites: ground ginger, celery salt, ground anise)
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 shallots, peeled and quartered
- Whole peppercorns
- 1 kabocha squash, seeded and cut into 1" pieces
- Rinse and pat dry the pork belly. Liberally season the pork with sea salt, pepper and spices. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to allow pork belly to absorb flavors.
- Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
- In a Dutch oven or large cast-iron skillet (the pan should fit the ingredients comfortably without crowding them), add pork belly, apple cider vinegar, bay leaves, shallots and peppercorns. Add enough water to go halfway up the sides of the pork belly. Put in oven, then place a sheet of parchment paper over the pan to cover. Bake for 5 hours.
- Remove from oven. Take pork belly out of pan and set aside. Add squash to the pan and return to oven. Cover with parchment paper and cook for 30-40 minutes or until soft.
- When ready to serve, if squash is cool, place in hot oven to reheat.
- Heat a medium skillet (cast iron is preferred) over medium-high heat. Sear the top and bottom until browned and crispy (about 45 seconds each side). Remove from pan.
- Slice pork belly into 1" wide pieces. Serve with squash.
Todd Porter and Diane Cu are professional food and travel photographers who publish the popular food blog White on Rice. Their lives have always been about love, family, friends, sharing, exploring and food.