Pork Belly and Roasted Corn Risotto: Westward Ho!

Pork Belly and Roasted Corn Risotto: Westward Ho!

Though I think about food all day long, I was never a pioneering or adventurous eater.  As a child, I was demonstrably picky, despite (and probably because of) having two parents who were excellent cooks.  My father is a chef, and my mother was a caterer.  Yes, they fed us thrilling things, but I didn’t like them.  Like Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, I’d put on a whole show about their culinary cruelty.  I’d eat their plated whatever-you-call-it, but not without a fight.  By the time I was in double digits, my folks caved. I feel like my entire diet the year I turned 10 was a montage of boneless skinless chicken breasts seasoned with Mrs. Dash.  It wasn’t until I was 22, and I’d moved to Oregon, land of farmer’s markets and frontier spirit, that I started to discover new foods to occupy my thoughts—foods I was too skittish to relish as a child.  

“Discover” and “new” are presumptuous words.  I’m using them much in the same way Lewis and Clark did when they “discovered” a “new,” already populous and civilized west.  I stumbled on something many long knew was there.  But, hey, it was new me, and that novel feeling fueled just enough born-again fever to inspire me to say, “Look what I’ve discovered!! I’m a genius!!” I discovered things like goat cheese, broccoli rabe, mutton shanks, fiddle ferns, jicama, and sun chokes.  I discovered fruits with weird shapes and bizarre colors. And I discovered pork belly.  Talk about planting a flag on already well-trod territory!  Pork belly was definitely the least new of these new discoveries.  After all, I’d been eating it my whole life.  It was just cured, smoked, and given the less offal-invoking name, “bacon.”

I can find pork belly at any Costco now, but the farmer’s markets used to be the only place game in town.  We didn’t have any good butcher shops nearby, and the most exciting pig product sold at the local Safeway were the pork rinds in the chip aisle.  But 17 years ago, if I wanted pork belly, I’d have to source it from the family of 6 disturbingly polite blonde children selling butcher cuts from the chest freezer out the back of their brown van.  “Do you have any recommendations for preparation?” I’d ask.  They’d look to each other, confused, then to their father who was busy strumming “Wildwood Flower” on his melody harp.  “You know what, I’ll figure it out, thanks.”

The best thing about pork belly is the classic preparation makes it so easy.  The first time I made it, I didn’t even use a recipe.  I braised it in stock, wine, honey, whole-grain mustard, shallots, salt and pepper.  When I took it out of the oven 90 minutes later, the meat looked tender, but the skin left much to be desired.  So I removed the lid, and popped it back in the oven for another 30 minutes.  The braising liquid reduced to a velvet, and the skin crisped up to a deep-bronze, popping crackle.  The had fever hit. I staked my claim on this new, already well-known land.

Pork belly is the Gateway Arch to the foodie frontier.  It still feels enough like a curiosity to give a sense adventure, but its familiarity offers the necessary comfort along the ride.  The first time you make it you might keep the flavors close to home, but you’ll quickly look for new ways to expand.  Perhaps you might experiment with sweet and tart cooked fruits.  Maybe you’ll add more texture to play with and toy with pomegranate seeds or crunchy cabbage.  After the west has been fully explored, you might turn east and let it invite you in to the mind blowing effects of sesame oil, gochujang, and rice vinegar on pork belly.  As your map of flavors expands, you’ll soon see that what used to be a frontier, is now your backyard. And as you itch to “discover” new-to-you flavors, Pork belly, this humble, succulent cut, is your vehicle to the world that awaits.

Pork Belly and Roasted Sweet Corn Risotto

Serves 4 


Pork Belly:

  • 1 lb. of pork belly.
  • 1 yellow onion, diced.
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1Tbs of honey
  • 1/4 cup of cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of white wine
  • 3 Tbs of dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes
  • 1/8th tsp of ground juniper
  • 2 cups of low sodium chicken stock

Roast Corn Risotto:

  • 1 cup of arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup of corn cut from the cob.  (Frozen is fine in a pinch.)
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup of white wine
  • 2 quarts of low sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • Olive oil
  • Salt/Pepper to taste

Note: You may have unused stock in the risotto recipe. That’s okay.  Just put it in a container and save for another use.  Exact measurements of liquid for risotto are difficult to state in advance.  


Pork Belly 

  1. 1.Score the top, fat side of the pork belly with multiple slashes in an x pattern.  Try not to go all the way down to the flesh.
  2. 2. Over medium high heat, add the onion and garlic to a large skillet that has a lid, or a dutch oven.  Cook for 2 minutes until translucent and fragrant.
  3. 3. Add the vinegar and white wine to the pan and reduce for 3 minutes.
  4. 4. Place the pork belly, scored side up into the pan.  
  5. 5. Add the stock until comes halfway up the pork belly, the scored fat still exposed.
  6. 6. Add the mustard, honey, red pepper flakes and juniper.  
  7. 7. Bring to a boil.
  8. 8. Cover with the lid and place in the 325ºF oven for 90 minutes.
  9. 9. After 90 minutes, increase the heat to 400ºF, remove the lid from the pan and continue cooking for an additional 30 minutes.  (This is about when I start the risotto.)
  10. 10. Remove the pork belly from the pan and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.  Reserve the braising liquid as a sauce.
  11. 11. When ready to plate, slice the pork belly into 1/4” thick slices, and place atop the risotto.
  12. 12. Spoon some braising liquid over the top.

    Roasted Corn Risotto

    1.  1. Add the stock to a large sauce pot over high heat, bring to a boil, then cut heat down to low
    2. 2. In a separate large skillet, or sauce pot add the corn and a little olive oil over high heat.
    3. 3. Cover with a lid and cook for 7-10 minutes, shaking the pan every so often, until all of the corn is a deep golden brown.  
    4. 4. Combine the corn and a ladleful of the hot stock in a blender and blend until very smooth, set aside.
    5. 5. Over medium-high heat, in the sauce pot used for the corn, add the minced shallot and the olive oil, and stir, about a minute, until fragrant.  
    6. 6. Add the arborio rice and a few pinches of fresh pepper.
    7. 7. Toast the rice, pepper and shallots in the pan, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes.
    8. 8. Add the white wine, and start a timer for 22 minutes.  Stir continuously until the wine is fully reduced.
    9. 9. Add two ladlefuls of stock, and stir continuously fully absorbed.
    10. 10. Repeat this step of adding stock, stirring and reducing until the 22 minutes are up.
    11. 11. Taste the risotto.  If still too firm, add another ladleful of stock and stir/reduce as before.
    12. 12. Add the blended corn/stock mixture, and stir.
    13. 13. Add the grated parmesan, stir, and season with salt to taste.
    14. 14. Plate immediately.  Top the risotto with the sliced pork belly and braising liquid.

    John Tufts is an award-winning actor and author.  In addition to being paid to travel the world to wear tights and fight with swords, he has also written a book about the food of Shakespeare’s England called Fat Rascals: Dining at Shakespeare’s Table.  His book is available at john-tufts.com/fatrascalsbook.  His upcoming food history web series, Eatso Facto, airs on YouTube.  You can follow him on Instagram at @johnnymtufts.  He lives in New York.
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