Bacon and belly are big. Here’s why.
If bacon were a trend, it would be over by now. But it’s not. Diners’ fascination with cured, smoked pork belly is everlasting—it’s a full-blown obsession—and club chefs are continuing to find clever ways to incorporate bacon and belly on menus and into dishes.
“Bacon and pork belly have a lot of depth of flavor,” says John Weatherford, Executive Chef and F&B Director of the Country Club of Columbus (Ga.). “When you marry it with certain ingredients, it really brings the protein to life.”
“Bacon and pork belly hit all the tastes,” says Troy Stauffer, Executive Chef of Brier Creek Country Club, Raleigh, N.C. “It can go sweet, savory, spicy or salty. It’s unctuous and delicious.”
“Bacon and pork belly have more flavor than any other protein,” says Ron Henry, Executive Chef of Bloomington (Ill.) Country Club.
For all three chefs, bacon and belly play an important role on menus. In some dishes, it’s the star. In others, it’s only a supporting character. But in all cases, it adds flavor and richness in a way that no other ingredient can.
What’s in Name
At the Country Club of Columbus, which counts 650 members on its roster and does $1.3 million in annual F&B, bacon and belly are featured in a variety of ways, but share the same name.
“We do a pork-belly slider topped with a spiced tomato jam that members go crazy for,” says Weatherford, who has been at the club for 11 years. “We also do a pork-belly salad, topped with a vanilla vinaigrette, for a spin on a classic spinach salad.”
Pork belly is also featured in the club’s seared scallops, to add richness. Once finished, the scallops are laid over sweet corn chowder and topped with a salad of arugula and more sautéed pork belly. The dish is finished with a drizzle of white truffle oil.
Pork belly is a featured component in the club’s fried-oyster BLT. Weatherford also sautées it and incorporates it into his kale pesto and tomato jam.
“The biggest challenge we have with pork belly is the name,” says Weatherford. “For some reason, members are turned off by it. So instead, we call it house bacon, and they eat it up.”
To make his pork belly, Weatherford starts with a 48-hour apple cider brine. “The sweet tartness of the apple complements the pork really well,” he says.
From there, he will braise, smoke or roast it, depending on the final application.
Bringing Home the Bacon
Stauffer has only been at Brier Creek for four months and is still getting his arms around the operation.
Previously, he was the Executive Chef of ClubCorp’s newly reinvented City Club Raleigh, located in the heart of downtown.
“At City Club we made all of our own bacon, and we used pork belly in a lot of different applications,” says Stauffer. “Our most creative application was our housemade bacon with maple cotton candy.”
He started by curing and smoking his own slab of Cheshire white pork. He then roasted the slab and served it with a big ball of maple cotton candy, seasoned with piment d’Alep (a moderately spicy chili).
“We served it as a small plate and it was awesome,” says Stauffer, who hopes to eventually make his own bacon at Brier Creek, where he recently featured pork belly on the menu for his first-ever member-guest.
“I did a braised and roasted belly with a sorghum-whiskey glaze over stone-ground grits and corn,” Stauffer reports.
Bloomington CC’s Henry marinates pork belly in brown sugar and spice overnight. He then sears it for 10 minutes until it’s dark and caramelized, before braising it in mire poix and Budweiser for about two-and-a-half hours at 325°F.
“We plate it with spicy pickled okra and three-pepper apricot and peach jam,” says Henry, who has been at Bloomington for three years.
Pancetta—which is similar to bacon in that it’s cured, but different in that it’s not smoked—is also big at Bloomington.
“We use pancetta in our shrimp and grits,” says Henry, who runs a 41% food cost and does $1.8 million in annual F&B. “It adds depth of flavor and richness to the dish, without overpowering the other components.”
On New Year’s Day, Bloomington hosts a Bloody Mary brunch, complete with an elaborate Bloody Mary bar.
“The bar has at least twenty different condiments for the cocktails,” says Henry. “But the one that’s most popular is the brown-sugar bacon.”