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First time cooking PORK BELLY report

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Hi hounds. Despite the unbelievable 80+ degree weather we've been getting in coastal CA this week, I cooked my first pork belly and thought I'd share my results and what I learned.

I couldn't resist buying the bone-in pork belly when I was at an Asian market (Lion in San Jose) and it was so fresh-looking and cheap. Never having cooked w/ it before, I figured that I would go ahead and pre-season it w/ S&P and figure out a cooking method later.

Due to dining out and laziness, 3 days went by. I wasn't stressing about it b/c I figured that this cut could benefit from a long dry-cure and it would stay fresh enough (unlike sliced pork loin or something).

So the other night I finally decided that it was time to cook the sucker and remembered that Fergus Henderson's book "The Whole Beast" had some good and easy sounding recipes. Of course, this would be a European prep as opposed to Asian, which I had considered too.

His recipe was simple but I bypassed the 3-day wet brine for obvious reasons. His wet brine sounds fantastic though and I'll say more on that later. For roasting, you just place the scored pork belly on some chopped onions to prevent the meat from sticking. Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt on top of the belly. Roast at 375F for 1.5-2 hrs. You can run under broiler at end to brown skin, if desired. Couldn't be easier.

What I did: Made a bed of veggies (savoy cabbage, carrots, potato) under belly to serve alongside. Seasoned veg w/ a little EVOO, S&P. Poured in a little pale sherry. Placed pork belly on top and proceeded according to recipe. Roasted for just over 2 hrs. at 375F. During roasting, added a little chicken broth when pan was too dry and mixed veg a couple of times. Couldn't resist brushing on a little maple syrup during last 20 min. of roasting. Skin browned nicely so broiler wasn't necessary.

Result: Delicious but rich! This smelled *incredible* while roasting. Pork and cabbage go so well together. I thought that the skin might burn or start to smoke, but not at all. Liked the maple syrup addition since it added caramel sweetness to the crispy crackly skin. Don't really have to tend to this cut at all. I was surprised at how little fat was rendered. The veg def. needed the olive oil and liquids. I think the dry cure method perhaps dried out the cut too much, so next time I will def. use a wet brine. Meat, fat, and skin tasted luscious and deeply seasoned, but wasn't as melting as I expected. I think a wet brine will make a difference. I also wonder if braising instead of dry roasting would make a difference. If using maple syrup and same veg again, will also add a little cider vinegar.

So back to Henderson's wet brine. Here's the recipe paraphrased:

2 c. superfine (caster) sugar
2.25 c. coarse sea salt
12 juniper berries
12 cloves
12 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
4 qts. water

Put everything in pot and bring to boil to dissolve sugar and salt. Decant and cool. (I'm assuming he means to strain out seasonings, but I might leave some in). When cool, add meat and leave it in brine for what's specified in your recipe (3 days for pork belly). Store in fridge.

So there it is. This is obviously a rich dish and not something I'd make very often, but I look forward to trying it again w/ a wet brine before the winter is over. Any feedback or other recipes (particularly Asian style) are appreciated. I will post another photo of the plated pork belly (so you can see the sliced meat) once someone responds.

Image: http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y45/...

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  1. Looks and sounds fabulous! This might sound ignorant, but I don't think I've ever seen pork belly on the bone... I guess I've probably seen it just about every other way - maybe I just didn't realize what I was looking at... will have to check it out next time I'm in Lion/Ocean/99 Ranch/New Wing Yuen, etc.! Thanks for posting the recipe.

    4 Replies
    1. re: RWCFoodie

      It comes both ways, with or without bones. It will depend on what exactly you wish to cook.

      Almost all Aisan Markets will have it.

      1. re: RWCFoodie

        Thanks. Photo of it sliced and plated is below (no bones in that serving). Quite rich so couldn't eat alot, but the skin was good, as was the savoy cabbage.

        I didn't know that pork belly was sold w/ bone either. I didn't realize that mine had bone til after I pointed and saw the clerk handle it. Just a few flat ribs (I think) covering half of one base. Figured that bone would give it more flavor, but I'm not really sure when it's best to choose bone in or boneless. Anyone know?

        Henderson's recipes call for pork belly including skin and bones.

        Image: http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y45/...

        1. re: Carb Lover

          Is that a dollop of something jellyish like lingonberries in the photo? Or is it salmon eggs or am I going blind?

          1. re: oakjoan

            No, you're not going blind. Rather my camera wasn't completely in focus at the foreground and I think you're referring to the glistening crunchy skin that I made sure was visible. A little hard since the skin was thick, but a nice treat, especially w/ the maple syrup glaze.

      2. Wow, just gorgeous-thanks for sharing this. The cabbage, carrots, and potatoes seem like the perfect foil. I've never dry roasted a pork belly before but that crackly skin has sold me on the idea-it sounds like suckling pig.

        Do you think a longer roast would melt the fat down or would the meat suffer? Flavorwise, I'm curious how this cut would work with a (euro-style) braise. Hmmm, now I'm very curious!

        I'm intrigued by bone-in too. Will look at Ranch 99 for this soon.

        Have you enjoyed Henderson's book so far? I've heard lots of good stuff (I recall JudiAU being a big fan and she was right on about Zuni) but haven't purchased yet.

        I linked a Japanese style pork belly that I posted earlier. It's braised in soy and most of the fat melts down slowly but not completely (a bit is still left at the end of cooking) and enhances the sauce. It's delicious, but as you say pork belly is rich stuff and a little portion goes a long way!

        Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

        1 Reply
        1. re: petradish

          Thanks for the recipe. Sounds great.

          The blistered crackly skin was a bonus w/ roasting; however, I admit that it was a little hard since the skin was from a large pig as opposed to small suckling ones w/ thinner sheaths. It was still tasty though.

          I'm not sure about roasting longer. I let mine go for about 2 hr. 15 min. hoping to render more fat and crisp the skin, but I do wonder if the meat was technically "overcooked" since it was more grayish in the middle than pink. There's so much fat that it was still succulent though. Unlike Judy Rodgers, Henderson's recipes are very brief and this one didn't say much about how to tell when it was done. Just said to roast for 1.5-2 hrs. If you wanted to let it go for longer, then I'd reduce the heat to 300-325F. I may play w/ the temp. next time.

          Henderson's book is a great addition to my collection since I don't have anything that deals w/ more exotic cuts of meat and game. It's more of a recipe book than a philosophical tutelage for me, but I always feel so "daring" when I make something different like pork belly or roasted marrow bone. His recipes are very streamlined and austere, which I like too.

        2. I have never cooked or eaten pork belly. I'm assuming it is just that, a pork belly... What is it's appeal, as compared to other piggy cuts?

          2 Replies
          1. re: Funwithfood

            FWF, if you eat bacon, then you've had pork belly. I believe that bacon is essentially pork belly that has been cured, smoked, and sliced. I don't know about you, but I adore bacon. I rarely eat it straight but love to use it in my cooking.

            I didn't try braised pork belly til recently at Asian restaurants. Chinese restaurants always have some variation on their menus, and I've had it at one Viet place. Common to see them cooked in claypots. Now that people aren't as scared of fat, it seems rather popular (like short ribs) at Euro-Cal establishments.

            As w/ any cut that cooks low and slow in a braising medium, much flavor is coaxed out and consistency transforms into a melting luxuriousness. Since it's rich, a little goes a long way in fortifying the body for the winter (albeit a warm CA one for both of us!).

            If you're interested in making it, look for it at the Asian markets in SoCal. Cheap and fresh.

            1. re: Carb Lover

              Thank you for the tutorial!

              Now that I know what to expect (not an obscure/scary part of the pig), I will feel comfortable ordering it should I see it on a menu. (Your photograph was very appealing.)

              Yes--I love bacon. (Especially Nueske's applewood smoked bacon--the au jus I make from the fond is the secret ingredient in many of my soups!)

          2. I know I'm replying to an OLD thread here, but I wanted to comment on this procedure and ask some advice. No point in starting over.

            I'd never had pork belly, but have heard the hype. Last week, I found boneless strips of it in my local bodega, ridiculously cheap, so I bought some. I, of course, went online and did a bunch of reading, including this thread and last week's Chez Pim post.

            I ended up doing the following:

            I used kitchen shears to snip the rind every 1" or so, and dry marinated overnight in 5 spice powder and salt.

            Braised the belly for two hours a la Pim. Once the braising liquid was almost completely reduced, I removed the belly strips from the pan, and poured off most of the fat (as much as I could without sacrificing the drippings).

            I then added sliced napa cabbage, onion, garlic and carrots in the manner above and tossed with the 1 tb remaining drippings. I returned the strips of belly to the pan, nestling them in the veggies with the rind up and put the pan back in the oven to dry roast for another hour (to cook the veggies and crisp the rind).

            Once the rind was crispy we were ready to eat. A few comments:

            The veggies where completely immersed in liquid although they started out dry. I am not sure if the meat had that much more fat to put our or the veggies themselves released that much liquid.

            The meat absolutely fell apart in your mouth. On the fork, even. Just barely push it with the fork at the 1" split in the rind and you had a bite size piece. Almost every scrap of fat rendered out in the two step cooking process. The rind was crackly and delicious.

            The down side? After two strips each with veggies and brown rice, we were both queasy. It was just too rich. We liked it but I'm not sure I'd make it again. Maybe as an appetizer? But three hours of cooking for an app? Is it just us? Any suggestions?

            --Lisa