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 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.