Salt pork is a cut from the belly and sides of a pig which is cured in salt. It is very similar to bacon, except that salt pork is not smoked, and bacon tends to be leaner. It is also distinct from fatback, another similar product, as fatback is not salted. This cured pork product has a long history, and it is still a part of the cuisine of some regions of the world, such as the New England coastline, where this pork has been used in soups and stews for centuries.
Salt curing is one of the oldest techniques for curing meat. When meats are salt cured, they are packed in salt and periodically turned for a period of months. As the curing progresses, water is drawn out of the meat, and salt penetrates inwards. The salt prevents molding and rotting, acting as a preservative to keep the meat in good condition. Well-handled salt pork could last a year or more packed in barrels, making it a staple food in many regions of the world.
Traditionally, salt pork was kept on board ships as a ship's ration, and this food was also used to supply armies and explorers with their basic protein needs. Many Europeans acquired a taste for the pork, thanks to time spent on ships, in remote colonies, and in the military, and as a result, it is a common feature in the cuisine of former colonies and coastal regions. Today, many people use bacon instead, since salt pork can be hard to obtain.
When salt pork is cured in the traditional way, it must be soaked in several changes of water before use to draw the salt out, or it will be unbearably salty. Cooks often cut a piece and set it out to soak the night before a dish was to be cooked, sometimes blanching it to encourage more salt to leach out. Once the pork has been soaked, it could be cut for use in whatever dish is being prepared.
People often use salt pork as a base for foods, especially soups. Along with seafood, potatoes and bitter leafy greens, for example, it is a common soup ingredient in the Northeast of the United States, and this meat also plays a role in the stews of the Caribbean, Portugal, and Spain, among other regions.