i know… i’ve been going on and on about this slab-o-pork for awhile now, haven’t i? but really, it all began just 2 weeks ago. well, that was the day the pork belly arrived. but by the time it landed at my door i had already spent some time deciding on how i would go about handling this pristine 8 lb. belly, and the bottom line was that i weighed some varying options and chose to go down the dan barber – of famed ‘blue hill/blue hill at stone barns restaurants‘ – path and use his cure recipe.
(for scale…) and here’s the deal. well, my deal anyway. if i am overnighting a pork belly all the way to nashville, tn from ‘niman ranchland‘ – i’m going to be using the best ingredients that i can get my hands on. so i ordered my spices from ‘penzeys‘ and got grinding. i’m including a recipe – of sorts, but there can be so very many variables, like the size of your belly (hehe) or your particular level of neurosis when it comes to following directions – or not, therefore bringing in to play any and all opinionated, albeit highly creative input you might have. but the good news is that through all of this i have now found out first hand that it is pretty much impossible to actually destroy a pork belly. and that this cure mix is so damn right - and then there’s all that fat which as it turns out is pretty forgiving – that is, on everything except perhaps your very own belly… anyway, use this as a guideline, check out amy’s recent post on her experience with ‘The Belly’ – and then if you’re so inclined, and i believe you are – get intuitive. but i’m telling you – this ‘dan barber pork belly cure mix’ – i can vouch that it is absolutely spot-on…
dan barber’s pork belly (as told by me)
heavily adapted from a 2005 epicurious recipe
(to grind – use your whirly bird coffee grinder and when you’re finished just add some white rice and run it for 30 seconds or so and it will clean it completely – otherwise you’ll need to get out the mortar and pestle and have at it)
1/4 cup fennel seed
1/4 cup cumin seed
1/4 cup plus 2 T coriander seed
3 T black peppercorns
1 T white peppercorns
4 star anise
4 pieces of cinnamon
4 teaspoons whole clove
1 cup salt
2/3 cup sugar
grind the spices in a coffee grinder in batches. combine ground spices with the salt and sugar. heavily coat the belly, cover with foil and let it sit in the refrigerator, undisturbed for 3 days. on the third day rinse the belly well, dry it thoroughly and wrap tightly in plastic, placing it back into the refrigerator. the meat will hold for a few days at the very least now that it’s been cured. you’ll need a baking pan that will fit the belly comfortably but without too much extra room. place it in the pan skin up add about 2 quarts of rich chicken stock (i used a mix of my stock and water) so that it comes about 3/4 of the way up the meat braise at 200F for 8 – 10 hours (as in overnight) remove from the oven, draining the braising liquid into another pot and let the belly rest in the refrigerator for at least a day to allow for the flavors to really develop. put the liquid into the freezer for about 90 minutes so that the fat comes to the surface and solidifies without freezing the rest of the liquid break off the fat (i saved mine in a freezer bag for future sausage making) and reserve about 3 cups. then a few hours before your dinner, place the meat along with the ‘caramel vinegar sauce’ (recipe below) into the oven for roughly an hour right before you serve – lightly score the skin (i overdid it and went too deep – live and learn), cut into serving pieces and sear skin-side down in a hot pan. to serve, spoon the caramel vinegar sauce over the meat and lentils.
(it’s difficult to see the depth of the fat here but it’s quite a big pot and the fat is at about 1/3" at center and at least 1/2" on the edges)
i decided early on that i’d be serving this over ‘lentils de puy‘ a much loved variety, grown in the volcanic soil of the auvergne region of southern france. why? because they are some esoteric little suckers, and well – i obviously get off on that. but, even after all the thought and consideration as to my plan of attack – right in the eleventh hour, i decided that i needed to make a sauce. and i found my inspiration from this recipe and then kinda riffed off of that.
caramel vinegar sauce
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
1 cup light brown sugar
4 star anise
1 cinnamon stick – broken
juice of 2 oranges and their zest
2 cups of the reserved defatted braising liquid
veal demi-glace – i used a 1.5 ounce pre-made package
put the sugar, vinegar, star anise and cinnamon in a small saucepan and cook, stirring, over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes, or until syrupy. stir in the braising liquid and simmer for another 5 minutes, or until slightly reduced. add the orange juice, zest and the demi glace and reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until once again syrupy. salt to taste
dear readers, it was really good. like really really good. and i was pretty damn pleased with myself. pork belly has totally got the double whammy of culinary "u" words goin on. umami and unctuous. this dish was part of a wonderful dinner that was held at my best friend angela‘s home. in attendance were 2 of nashville’s most talented chefs, john david crowe of ‘360 bistro‘ and laura wilson from ‘ombi restaurant‘, as well as the incredibly cool carrington fox – food critic for the ‘nashville scene‘. oh – and then a few of us foodie plebeians. there were many wonderful dishes served as in the sweetbreads and mache fennel salad with blood orange – brought over by john and prepared on the premises, and a caramel chestnut torte from laura, along with her amazing fennel and anise meringues that i could not stop eating. but regarding the final plated pic – there’s a blaring lack of the desired ‘money shot’ that would do the belly justice, especially after all we’d been through together. but please note that by the time this dish rolled around, we’d been feasting and drinking quite nicely. cary whipped out his ‘point and shoot’ and luckily saved the day – or the moment would have been consumed as quickly as the fast disappearing pork on our plates. please know that we tried, but these shots are off the cuff and are just from around the table. so instead of quality photography, i will just have to plow you with quantity…
(a few bites in…)
for our gathering i also made two other dishes that i’ll tell you about later.
but (you ask) – was there any more pork involved?
but (i say) – of course…