lf you’ve spent any time at all around these parts, you’ll know that I haven’t historically concerned myself with superspecial high-end ingredients. I do what I can, but if it’s a question of getting in the car and driving to Whole Foods in north Jersey traffic for something decent or just down the street for passable, I’ll admit to the laziness that so grips me.
But. During my dinner with Claudia of cook eat FRET fame, we discussed this very thing and I realized there’s absolutely no reason for me to live this way. I’m a food (for the most part) blogger, found my first NYC apartment online, met my roommates that way, and even met my husband online ferpete’ssake! Why wouldn‘t I think to order better-quality ingredients online? Clearly, I have a brain defect.
So order online I did. Looking for organic meat purveyors in the area, I found Fossil Farms and sat drooling as I clicked on page after page of meats both exotic and commonplace. They don’t have a store front, but that didn’t deter me; I contacted their customer service department and was assured we could pick up our order at their office, which just happens to be over the mountain, one town away. Yippee! After much deliberation, I chose a variety of their best offerings, but was most excited about the pork belly.
I’ve had pork belly in restaurants, sighed over countless versions on any number of blogs and pined for it incessantly, unable to find it in stores nearby. But now, I have a pork belly of my very own. And I will love him, and pet him, and name him George.
So let’s just take a moment to meditate on the porkly pleasures that await from this lovely 8-10 pound specimen of loveliness. That knife is there for scale: it’s about a foot long.
I quartered it, vacuum sealed three of the portions for the freezer, and set about preparing the fourth, which was still at least 2 pounds.
Witness the Stack o’ belly:
Indeed, it was a Great Wall of Belly — the only man-made porcine structure visible from space!
So again to teh interweb I turned. I didn’t want to waste this little bit of heaven on some crackpot idea of mine, but knew I wanted to use soy, brown sugar, and star anise in the braising liquid, so I entered my search terms and off I went down the google slide. It led me in short order to Gastronomy Domine, run by Liz Upton, who loves her pork perhaps even more than I do. Her recipe for braised belly had me licking my screen, so I knew it would be the perfect thing for my first adventure.
And here we go. After cutting the belly into 3/4-inch strips, it marinates for an hour in a mixture of soy, honey, and five spice powder.
Stir fry the aromatics and brown sugar until they turn golden.
The pork and its marinade go in next and get tossed about until they’re beginning to brown. It doesn’t look like much at this point, but the smell was maddening and had Rufus pacing the kitchen, hoping for a handout. He didn’t get it, but still pined for the next two hours while the pork braised.
You’ll find this nigh-impossible to believe, but we waited until the next day to dine! Not that I didn’t nibble. I mean, quality control, right? I would’ve been too alarmed to even think of having some of that fatty sauce with the belly (which, I’ll admit, is mostly fat anyway).
After refrigerating the sauce overnight, we were left with a fat mantle thicker than the antarctic ice shelf.
But let me take a moment to reflect on another web purchase that completed the meal. I first read about Rancho Gordo at Last Night’s Dinner and wondered how much better heirloom beans could be than the regular dried stuff you buy at the store. Then they got a mention at cook eat FRET, and then seemingly everyone else in the known universe picked up on the idea, so I knew I had to place an order. And oh, let me tell you, if you haven’t tried them already, you must. They’ll change your life.
I cooked a half pound of marrow beans very simply, with onion, garlic, and bay leaf in water, adding salt near the end. They were a great complement to the belly, especially topped with some of the braising liquid.
To serve the belly, I just crisped it up in a frying pan for a few minutes before topping it with braising liquid for serving. It isn’t beautiful, but the the aroma, taste, and simple texture of the dish more than made up for any lackluster visual.
recipe after the jump
Soy and Anise Braised Pork Belly adapted slightly from Gastronomy Domine
2 pounds pork belly
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
2 tablespoons canola oil
5 cloves garlic
4 flowers of star anise
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup pork or chicken stock
Using a very sharp knife or a Chinese cleaver, chop the pork into strips about 3/4-inch thick. (Do not remove the skin.) Mix one tablespoon of the soy sauce with the honey and five-spice powder in a bowl, and marinade the sliced pork in the mixture for an hour.
Chop the garlic and shallots very finely. Heat the oil to a high temperature in a heavy Dutch oven with a close-fitting lid, and fry the garlic, shallots, star anise and brown sugar together until they begin to turn gold. Turn the heat down to medium, add the pork to the pan with its marinade, and fry until the meat is colored on all sides.
Pour over the white wine and cook until most of it is absorbed. Add the chicken stock, salt and the rest of the soy sauce. Bring the mixture to the boil, reduce to a gentle simmer, cover and continue to simmer for two hours, turning the meat every now and then. If the sauce seems to be reducing and thickening, add a little water. (This wasn’t a problem for me. The sauce barely reduced at all.)
This is one of those recipes which is even better left to cool, refrigerated, and then reheated the next day. Skim the fat from the sauce before reheating. Brown the slices of belly over medium-high heat before topping with sauce. This renders even more of the fat and magically turns the belly into a health food.