OH, BACON. FIRST THIS BREAKFAST classic started showing up on the dinner table. Then it was the dessert menu. And now you can find its flavor in vodka, gumballs, and even some dubious personal care products. Hence the stage was set for pork belly to step in as breakfast’s new porcine darling. We love its unctuous decadence at dinner, so why not slap it on a waffle and serve it up with some maple syrup?
But while bacon is enduring a moment of major overexposure, no upstart pork product could ever vanquish the cured meat from its revered spot on our breakfast table. There’s room for both bacon and pork belly on the morning menu. Just maybe not on the same plate, if only to appease your physician.
Both bacon and pork belly begin as a cut from the fatty underbelly of the pig. The curing process is what transforms pork belly into bacon, the smoky, salty breakfast classic we all grew up on. Pork belly, unlike those crisp greasy strips next to your scramble, is juicy with a texture more reminiscent of the familiar pork chop. Chefs braise it, sous vide it, or even cook it like a steak in a frying pan. Each one has its charms. Here, a highly unscientific breakdown of both bacon and belly.
Lola’s Smoked Bacon
Tom Douglas’s third-eldest restaurant may be Mediterranean in nature, but executive chef Liam Spence says the kitchen still goes through 30 sides of bacon a week. That’s more than 250 pounds, purchased from nearby Bavarian Meats. The cut is still pork belly—it’s just smoked for an especially big flavor that stands out on its own or melded into a dish like Tom’s Big Breakfast (see page 56). The appeal isn’t exactly a mystery, says Spence. “Fat and salt are delicious.”
It’s the same bacon used at other Tom Douglas restaurants, but in quarter-inch-thick slices “because it’s awesome that way.”
Excess fat? That’s an oxymoron! This bacon is approximately 50 percent fat.
Strips are baked, not fried, for a moist, more chewy texture. Fried by special request for guests who prefer extra crispy.
Skillet Diner’s Maple-Braised Pork Belly and Cornmeal Waffle
Before Skillet Diner opened, Brian O’Connor attended the preview pop-up dinner put on by Skillet Street Food maestro Josh Henderson. O’Connor, now executive chef at the oft-mobbed Capitol Hill restaurant, ordered the pork belly and waffle at that dinner. “It’s one of the staples Josh said had to stay on the menu, and it’s been really easy since I love the dish.”
Braised in a combination of maple syrup and chicken stock, which later gets reduced and drizzled across the top.
Pressing the pork between two sheet trays after braising reduces fat.
Seared for crispness, but still tender enough to cut with a fork.