Pork belly can be prepared in a number of different ways, depending on the preferences of the cook and the desired results for the belly itself. One of the most common ways to prepare this cut of meat is to cure and smoke it; this produces a food that is commonly referred to as bacon in the US. The belly can also be braised for long, slow cooking and will withstand this cooking method better than other cuts of pork. Pork belly that is braised can then be served with a number of different accompaniments, though it can also be seared after braising for a different texture.
As the name suggests, pork belly is a cut of meat that comes from the belly or underside of a pig. While different cuts from this area can have somewhat different textures and compositions, in general it consists of alternating layers of meat and fat. There are different breeds of pig that can generate pork bellies with fairly different properties, though generally this cut is fairly similar among breeds. The way in which pork belly is prepared can vary a great deal and dictates the texture and way in which the belly can best be used.
One of the most common preparations of pork belly is curing and smoking the meat. Curing typically consists of a dry rub of salt, sometimes with other ingredients, that is allowed to sit on the meat. This draws moisture out of the meat, creating an inhospitable environment for bacteria and increasing the natural flavors of the meat. When pork belly is prepared in this way, it is often referred to as bacon.
Pork belly can also be prepared for a number of different dishes and braising is a common and preferred way of preparing the belly. Due to the high amount of fat on this cut of meat, it will typically stand up quite well to long cooking and braising without taking on an unpleasant texture. The types of liquids used for this braising vary depending on different recipes and types of cooking, and braised pork is quite common in many types of Asian cuisine and is becoming increasingly popular in American cooking as well. Once pork belly is braised, it can be served on rice or with sides like polenta, and it can also be removed from braising liquid and seared to take on a firmer, even crispy exterior.