Regardless of how gross you think it sounds, you probably need more pork belly in your diet. Along with bacon (which typically comes from the side of the pork—its love handles, if you will, as opposed to its belly fat) and pancetta, pork belly is yet another meat product where the fat makes all the difference. However, unsmoked, uncured, and unsliced pork belly (yes, we’re talking about a solid cube of pork streaked with fat, or fat streaked with meat, if you’re a glass-half-full type) is not typically available at the grocery store, and I’d never had it in “steak” form before. Until last night.
The Seattle restaurant scene is buzzy. There’s always someone doing something new and different. I’d heard that former Earth & Ocean chef Maria Hines had opened her new place, Tilth, to rave reviews, and had heard that there was pork belly on the menu from Skagit River Ranch, which is where I recently bought a (stand-alone) freezer’s worth of organic beef, pork, and chicken. So, in a fit of impulsive behavior last night, we shut the door on trick-or-treaters before the big kids came out and headed to Tilth with some food-minded friends.
After an ethereally light and (corn) milky corn soup and a delicious but slightly too high-maintenance French melon salad (all small portions, which I appreciated), my Crispy Pork Belly landed. Served atop a pile of tender, buttery cranberry beans, with bacon vinaigrette and scallion pesto swathed across the sides of the plate, the pork belly might have been intimidating to some (including the vegetarian next to me). At about 2 1/2 inches square, it wasn’t big, but the stripey bacon texture was obvious on all four sides of said cube, leaving me to wonder if I really wanted to eat all that fat, and it . . .jiggled. A lot. Was this just bacon masquerading as something better?
One bite erased all hesitations. Imagine the best pork carnitas you’ve ever had: it quite literally melts in your mouth, and explodes with that deep, slightly salty flavor that only pork can provide as the meat fibers disassociate as you (hardly) chew. Now multiply that by ten, and you have Tilth’s Crispy Pork Belly. Try it, you’ll like it. I’ll be back (for brunch, I hope).