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Crispy pork belly report and question-- anyone tried zuni style dry brining?

I made a crispy pork belly for dinner tonight, not a problem since it's 50 and raining in Boston today. I rubbed it with salt/pepper/thyme/cumin/coriander as it thawed and came to room temperature, then roasted it, skin side (scored) down in a 475 oven for 30 min. before turning it down to 350 to finish for another 60 min, following the basic technique of a recipe from the London Telegraph from earlier this year. I also roasted some small fresh dug red potatoes on a salt bed-- I coated the potatoes in evoo, thyme, salt, lemon pepper, and piment d'espellete before roasting. The fat rendered out well, and it was very savory, moist and rich. I made a quick sauce by sauteeing some carrots and onions in the roasting pan until caramelized, and deglazing with fino sherry, chicken stock, and a half a lemon, which complemented but cut through the richness. All very tasty...

But-- I know most recipes for pork belly call either for braising (tried it, too mushy, didn't like it) or wet-brining in advance. Has anyone tried an extended dry cure, a la Zuni Cafe? I have done this with chicken, beef, veal, and other cuts of pork, but not pork belly. Does it add to the flavor? Or does the thick rind interfere with the rub's permeating the meat? I liked the cumin/coriander/thyme combo that was part of the original recipe, but I am wondering if the cumin over time would be too strong and overwhelm the meat.

Thanks for any thoughts, experiences, ideas...

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  1. Chinese roast pork is done with a dry rub - the spices are applied to the inside/underside and not to the skin. Usually I apply the spice rub overnight at a minimum - up to 24 hours. In addition the skin is prepared by poking many small holes into the skin and then pouring boiling water over the skin a couple of times - and then putting it in front of a fan until the skin becomes dry and smooth to the touch. Will take a few/or more hours depending on the humidity.

    Here's a link to an image from the last time I made this....

    http://i43.photobucket.com/albums/e36...

    5 Replies
    1. re: gordon wing

      Gordon, could you comment on your method for poking holes in the skin? Per the thread below, I've not had good luck.
      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/336139

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Here is a link to an image of the tool that I bought in Chinatown ( a few bucks ) to help with this process of poking holes in the skin. My results were noticeably better when I used a convection oven compared to my old Wedgewood oven. A visual clue is to look for the skin to start blistering - you'll need some pretty high heat to get to this stage. The skin on the suckling pigs - like at Koi palace - is not blistered at all but still very crisp .... I think it's a much thinner skin to begin with - in the larger pigs the skin is thicker and the crispy skin is almost always blistered
        http://i43.photobucket.com/albums/e36...

        1. re: gordon wing

          Thanks, Gordon. I bought a Norpro
          http://www.kitchenkneads.com/images/p...

          but I wasn't strong enough to pierce the skin adequately. Your tool looks a bit sharper, but I think I might need to use an ice pick and do the holes one at a time.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            it's surprising how tough the skin is ....
            you have to go a bit "Psycho" to do a good job :~)

      2. re: gordon wing

        Gordon would you be able to send a recipe or link to one for the roast pork belly you posted that picture of?

      3. I've never brined belly pork and don't see the reason. It's so fatty it's never going to dry out. I usually cook it down with lots of spices, red-cooked Chinese or spicy Thai style.

        My mother used to cut it into pieces, about 1" x 1" and cook it with red rice and Chinese wine. It was then served with a rice vinegar and pepper dip.

        5 Replies
        1. re: cheryl_h

          Would you mind posting your recipe for Thai Style? I haven't cooked pork belly yet but want to soon. Spicy Thai sounds like an excellent way...

          1. re: King of Northern Blvd

            It hardly counts as a recipe, just a method. I got it off the blog chezpim. It's called moo wan in Thai, and this is directly from her description:

            "I made a few other things, you could see them all on my Flickr, but the first thing that disappeared from the table was the ever popular caramelized belly pork. A lot of people have asked me to write a recipe, but let me tell you, it's so easy it's hardly worth it! I am not kidding you, this is what I do. Take a piece of belly, remove it from the skin if it's still attached, lay it out on a baking dish, a casserole, a cazuela, a Le Creuset pan, whatever you have. Then you make the braising liquid, by dissolving some palm sugar with water and adding to it some fish sauce. Taste it, the liquid should have the balance of sweet/salty you want in the final dish, but it should be about three times as thin as you want your resulting caramelized sauce to be. Pour the liquid over the slab of belly, get it to come up to nearly cover the top. Add to the pan a handful or two of sliced shallots. Bake that baby in a slow oven, for however long it takes until it's done. I never bother to measure or time it, but it comes out beautifully, every time."

            I like to add some chopped Thai chiles to the braising liquid, or use a vinegar and chile dip to serve. It's so simple, it just depends on getting a nice piece of belly pork.

            1. re: cheryl_h

              Thanks alot..I may try it with Tamarind juice in there in stead of water, it sounds really good..

              1. re: cheryl_h

                I tried this recipe and didn't get a very caramelized pork somehow. I followed the directions exactly. Cheryl H, could you please let me know what the time and temp was?

                1. re: thejulia

                  I use an oven temperature of 350 F, the time depends on how big a piece you have. I typically do around 3-5 lbs and it's probably in the oven for at least 3 hours. It should be very tender but not mushy. If the meat is tender but you have too much liquid, take the meat out and reduce the liquid on the stove. When it's syrupy, put the meat back in, baste well and broil until it's caramelized (watch carefully, this will burn easily).

                  I'm sorry it didn't work for you. I don't have exact directions because I pretty much grew up eating and making this dish. Is it too late to save it?

          2. Yes, I've dry-brined pork belly several days before roasting. See my old report w/ photo here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

            I seasoned all over the cut, so I think it was able to penetrate the meat just fine over the course of 3 days. Very delicious...

            In that post, I also mention Fergus Henderson's wet brine recipe, so I may try that next time just to compare. Sounds like it will make it more flavorful and perhaps tenderize the skin better. Keep us posted on what you discover!

            3 Replies
            1. re: Carb Lover

              Carb Lover...how do you think Winterland did their crispy pork belly the other night...I definitely wanted MORE!

              1. re: ChowFun_derek

                I wish I knew, but sadly, I wasn't there! I was there in spirit though since I remembered that you guys were all going. Now I'm just dying for a thorough report...get to it!

                Oh, can you describe more about Winterland's pork belly? Let's try to recreate it as a group...

                1. re: ChowFun_derek

                  oh yeah winterland's is so good. i also had a crispy pork belly at Blue Plate. I'm thinking after the braising process... they either batter it with light flour or starch and pan fry it for the crispy finish? the panfrying also heats up the dish.

              2. I've rubbed salt and spices over pork belly and let it cure for 48 hours prior to braising. Compared to when I've skipped this step, I find that the 'dry-brine' seems to intensify the flavor of the meat and adds a subtle complexity that's distinct from the flavor of the spices. The texture is improved, too. It still turns out tender, but doesn't fall apart into mush as easily. Maybe it's a similar process to dry-aging beef.

                1. One of the nicest ways to cook belly pork is by sprinkling five spice powder and salt on the skin, drizzle a little sesame oil over it and roast at gas three for about 3 hours, or until the skin is crisp all over - the best crackling I've ever had. I serve it with noodles and pak choi (cooked with garlic, a little oyster sauce, soy sauce and a squeeze of lime).

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Theresa

                    Gas Three????
                    How does that translate into Farenheit?...or even Celsius/Centigrade?