Today, I’m going to share with you another fabulous, affordable and delicious treat brought to you from the Greek grill.
The subject matter is none other than pork belly. Pork belly comes from the underside (belly) of the pig and it’s used to make bacon, rillettes, confit or a terrine. The Italians make their own version of bacon in pancetta. This underside (belly) is also where side-ribs come from and if you know anything about flavour – you know side ribs (albeit tougher than baby back ribs) have a ton of flavour.
One cannot deny that this cut of pork has fat in it but with some care in choosing your pork belly (look for a leaner cut) and some attention to the grilling, you’ll be delighted to have found another delicious piece of meat to add to your summer grilling repertoire.
My earliest recollection of eating pork belly in Greece is in the early 90’s. There was a bar in in the town where our family’s summer home is and they would throw “BBQ Parties” for the customers. Grilled pork belly was being given out along with slices of bread – all for free. Just as long as you were ordering drinks – the grilled pork belly was for the having.
Pork belly is a cheap cut, likely because it needs some coaxing to be tender but leave it to the Greeks to find a quick and delicious method to grill this cheap yet delicious cut.
In Greece, pork belly is labeled or known as “Î Î±Î½Ï„ÏƒÎÏ„ÎµÏ‚” (pantsetes), much like how the Italians call the belly. Butcher shops and supermarkets will carry this very popular pork cut, you’ll have no problem finding and you can be just as sure that a taverna or grill stand will include pantsetes in their menu alongside keftedes, souvlakia,Â loukanika and gyro.
When ordering or asking for pork belly, ask for the center-cut where each rib has been removed. It should look like a rectangular slab of pork, with the layers of skin, fat and pork meat evident from looking at it’s cross-section.
To turn this tougher yet flavourful cut into grilling deliciousness, one simply has to cut the belly against the grain, on the smaller side of the slab. Cut each slice to about an 1/2 inch in thickness. You need this thickness as there’s alot of fat in there which renders and in the end, leaves you with a smaller but albeit juicy, flavourful and and tender piece of grilled meat.
Be it at the butcher or at home, one has to decide if they want to grill the pork belly with or without the skin. Your butcher can remove the skin (or trim it off yourself) but I like the skin in tact as I adore the three textures one gets when biting into this delicious cut.
Upon taking a bite of “pantseta”, the first sensation is biting into the crackling. The second sensation is the taste of the little fat that’s left in the grilled belly (most is rendered in the grilling) and third and final taste sensation is the tender, flavourful & lean pork meat. The crackling is not for everyone but it’s a MUST for me.
In Greece, pantsetes are served much like a pork souvlaki is…grilled, finished off with some lemon juice and seasoned with sea salt and a sprinkle of Greek oregano. Often, the souvlaki or panteses are served on slices of rustic bread, which acts as a sponge to the juices from the meat. The simply pleasure of good bread with a souvlaki or pantsetes is hard to beat.
Go buy some pork belly and in the meantime, I’ll set up the grill and I’ll show you how I grill “pantsetes” or pork belly.
Grilled Pork Belly (Î Î±Î½Ï„ÏƒÎÏ„ÎµÏ‚ ÏƒÏ„Î± ÎºÎ¬ÏÎ²Î¿Ï…Î½Î±)
(makes 1 platter, enough for 4)
1 kg. of pork belly (skin removed if desired)
fresh lemon juice
dried Greek oregano
- Pre-heat your gas or charcoal grill. You’re aiming for a medium-high heat.
- Cut the pork belly along the short side into approx. 1/2 inch slices.
- Just before your grill is ready, season your pork belly cutlets with some salt & pepper and place on your pre-heated grill.
- Grill over medium-high heat on each side for about 5-6 minutes.
- Squeeze some fresh lemon juice on the pork belly and sprinkle with some sea salt and dried Greek oregano.
- Serve on top of slices of crusty bread, with some Greek fries, a salad and some cold beer.
Important Note: Pork belly has lots of fat but most it renders off in the grilling process. When grilling pork belly, you will get some flare-ups from the fat so DO NOT leave your pork belly unattended while grilling and have a spray bottle with water at hand to flush-out any flare-ups.
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