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Red Bean Essentials: Salt Pork

Red Bean Essentials: Salt Pork

For many cultures around the world, salt pork is a beloved ingredient that adds a unique savory flavor to many indigenous dishes. And in Louisiana, it’s a favorite in everything from red beans and black eye peas to cassoulet. But what exactly is salt pork? And what does it bring to the table?

What is Salt Pork?

Salt pork refers to heavily salted slabs of pork belly, pork shoulder, or other fatty cuts. The meat is rubbed with salt or submerged in a salt brine, which preserves the meat and infuses it with concentrated flavor.

The History of Salt Pork

The use of salt pork traces back to Europe in the Middle Ages, when salting and curing meats was an essential preservation technique. The practice spread around the globe as Europeans explored and colonized other continents. In the Caribbean, West Africa, and the United States, salt pork became a culinary tradition in New England dishes like Boston baked beans and clam chowder, and in the South, in staple dishes like beans, peas, and greens.

How to Use Salt Pork

Imparting flavor and fat into bean and blackeye pea dishes, salt pork adds body and a silky texture to stewed and slow-simmering favorites, thickening and enriching the cooking liquid. Traditional southern dishes like BBQ Beans and Field Peas with Snap Beans feature salt pork for its signature flavor.

The Difference Between Salt Pork and Bacon

Salt pork and bacon are both made from pork belly, salted to cure the meat, and available in slabs or sliced. But unlike bacon, salt pork is not smoked and contains substantially more fat. It also costs less! And since it has more fat, the collagen that’s released from salt pork during cooking melts into beans and other slowly simmered dishes, giving them amazing richness and texture. Salt pork can be used as one large piece, cut into cubes, or diced, depending on the recipe.

The Difference Between Salt Pork and Pickled Pork

Another common question is, what’s the difference between salt pork and pickled pork? While both salt pork and pickled pork are favorites in slow-cooked dishes like beans, pickled pork is cured with salt and then brined in vinegar, spices, and seasonings, providing a tangy flavor in addition to the saltiness. Salt pork is cured with just salt, and no other seasonings are involved.

Here’s what home cooks say when asked about the secret to their red beans:

“Sometimes cook with pickle and salt pork, or mild smoke sausage, also some people use bacon.”- Roxanne F.

“Salt pork!”- Wade L.

“I use the trinity, salt pork, smoked or regular turkey necks, Tony’s, and that’s about all. I will try the crab boil.”- Saja M.

“I’ve been cooking Camellia red beans for 55 years. I use onion, garlic, bacon fat and salt pork. If I can’t get salt pork, I use pickle meat. I taste the beans before I add salt.”- Eunette B.