Monday, January 21, 2008

Porcine Delight!!

The magical animal provides so many delicious options.

For Christmas, my dear friend Dan sent me some fresh pork belly (and a rack of spare ribs-to be discussed another time). Some of you are saying, "What do you mean he sent you pork belly for Christmas?!" "Is that a good gift?" "How weird!"

It's not as strange as the Christmas about 15 years ago when my Dad sent 5 lbs. of slab (uncut) bacon and a toothbrush. He had run across some mention of a great kind of bacon and knew I had access to a meat slicer at my restaurant job. Yes, it was a large amount of bacon, but it was very good. Now, the toothbrush is another story. It was actually art, not just a toothbrush, but I did use it as my toothbrush. After opening that box of goodies I feel prepared for anything that comes my way.

We've all seen it. Fresh pork side or belly is the cut that is smoked and made into bacon. Not many of us know how wonderful it is in its unsmoked or uncured form. It is absolutely fantastic and amazing, if you aren't squeemish about fat. The first time (and the only time until now) I had it was 5 years ago at a very memorable dinner at Herbsaint in New Orleans. It was snowy white and mostly fat- so very flavorful although some at the table weren't too keen to eat a forkful and managed to dissect the thin layer of meat out of it. The package that Dan sent looked very much like what I was expecting- he did call first to see if I was interested in having this food project, so I knew it was coming. It came from The Flying Pig Farm in Shushan NY. They raise heritage breeds of hogs, meat supposedly unlike the more common breeds we get at the regular grocery and butcher shops. I say supposedly, because I haven't actually had the meat, at least not a cut like a chop, roast, etc. that I am more familiar with.

So, how the heck do you cook a big slab of tasty fat? You braise it. That was a little bit of a surprise for me. I was initially concerned with ending up with a thin strip of meat in a pool of rendered fat. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that some fat would render and the connective tissue would soften, just like cooking a shank or other cut suitable for braising. The proof is in the pudding as they say, and it was wonderful.

Rough recipe:
Salt and pepper the belly.
Brown it.
In the same pan brown some mire poix and garlic.
Deglaze with cider/beer/stock.
Season the liquid- I used fennel seeds, thyme, tomatoes, and smoked crushed red pepper.
Add belly back to the pan, liquid should almost top it.
2 hours at 350 should result in a crisp top and tender meat.
To make a tasty sauce, strain and defat the pan liquid and reduce it. I served it with cheesy grits and a mix of black eyed peas, collard greens, and okra in a green pepper sauce, and corn bread.


kevin said...

As the only one besides the gifted Janet to experience the magnificence that was her braised pork belly, I can only say that you missed a feast. Seriously, this was one of the best meals bar none that I have ever eaten. Those friends of ours who read this, TAKE NOTE! Scream for the braised pork belly, beg for it on your knees, the reward will knock your proverbial socks off.

Please, let's all bow our heads and say a quick prayer of thanks to the Almighty for his gift to us of that wonderful animal, the pig. Yea, verily, Homer (Simpson) spake truly when he called the pig a "magical animal".

Robb said...

Only Kevin could use "yea verily" and Homer Simpson in the same comment. And that makes me very happy :)