Bacon, but more versatile?? Sign us up!
What ingredient should home cooks try?
23% said pork belly. "Americans have this love affair with bacon. Pork belly is where bacon comes from and is more versatile." —Jose Garces, Amada, Philadelphia
BCD Dad had picked up these beautiful pieces of pork belly at the local Asian mega-food store, and about 3 hours before dinnertime we set to work. Of course we decided we need an extra challenge, in addition to working with a brand new ingredient, so we decided to splice together three different pork belly recipes, all from unknown and unchecked Internet sources, two of which were UK sources so they conveniently had all their measurements in metric and temperatures in Celsius. Awesome.
Basically we were using the technique from recipe 1 (score pork bellies, fry skin side down, braise in liquid), the aromatic rub from recipe 2 (which didn't have the scoring and fry step), and the braising liquid from recipe 3 (more interesting than the others). As you will see, it all gets very complicated...
First step, score the skin of the bellies. This was harder than we thought, Xani tried 4 different knives before going back to her favorite cleaver and just forcing it to cut those lovely diamond patterns. Meanwhile, Erin was putting together the aromatic rub. The ingredients included brown sugar, star anise, black peppercorns, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, and salt.. We used the mini food processor to grind that into a fairly fine paste, then rubbed it into the scored skin.
Then, they went skin-side down into hot oil:
After a few minutes, the skin was crispy and brown
Next, we prepared the rest of the ingredients for the dish. Because we were combining various recipes, this got confusing. But in the end, we ended up making a braising concoction made with soy sauce, water, star anise, sugar, rice wine, Szechuan peppercorns, garlic, ginger, orange peel, cinnamon sticks, and honey. We also threw some sliced scallions, sweet potatoes, and onions into the pot, put on the cover, and brought the whole thing to a boil. Then, into the oven (after some quick math to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit!) for a couple hours until everything was cooked through and the pork was falling apart.
While that was cooking we got started with the really important stuff: cocktails.
We had some fresh mint in the house so we had to make Mojitos! Xani had just observed the technique they use at Little Havana (um, she was doing "research" at Happy Hour on Friday?), so she attempted to replicate it: muddle fresh mint and sugar in a little bit of club soda, then add rum, pour over ice, and top with another splash of club soda. The verdict? While refreshing, the mojitos were a bit strong/not sweet enough for some people. So, we'll re-adjust the formula next time...
As we are slaves to Food and Wine we also used a recipe from the July issue for our side dish, Asian Style Spicy Coleslaw. Dad and Erin prepped this dish the day before by cutting a TON of veggies (2 kinds of cabbage, carrots, peppers, cilantro and mint) and mixing up the dressing (peanut butter, lime juice, garlic, sugar, fish sauce and Sriracha). All that was left to to before dinner was toss everything together (had to use the largest bowl in the whole house!) and let it sit for a little while.
"That's a lotta slaw!"
"We're gonna need a bigger bowl."
While the pork bellies finished braising and the slaw marinated, we threw together a quick first course. Sticking with our Asian theme, we made some "pot-sticker" dumplings. These come frozen from the Asian store, and you can get them with many different types of fillings. They are simple to prepare if you follow Dad's method: put frozen dumplings in a hot pan with a little oil (make sure they are in a single layer). Do not mess with them! Let them cook over medium heat for a few minutes until crispy brown on one side (you are allowed to check one to see how brown they are, but otherwise NO TOUCHING!). When sufficiently brown, add chicken broth (about 1/2 a cup) and immediately cover the pan. Leave them to steam for 3-4 minutes. They will come out PERFECT. We served them with some Soba noodle sauce and wasabi paste- an excellent starter.
Finally, it was time for the main course. We removed the pork bellies from the braising liquid, along with the potatoes and onions (which were extremely soft and flavorful after all that cooking!). Then we took out the pork (also very tender) and strained the braising liquid to serve it on the side. Everything was great-- the meat and cooked veggies had a wonderful, sweet and savory taste. You could definitely taste the star anise but it was not offensive. The meat itself was very rich and tasty, and not as greasy as you might expect. However, these were essentially giant slabs of bacon we were eating, so there was quite a bit of fat left uneaten (one lucky dog got a few bites!). One slight disappointment was that the skin, which we lovingly browned, was no longer crispy after all that time in the braising liquid. But it was tasty, and one of the recipes mentioned that if you cooked it incorrectly the skin would be chewy and horrible, so I guess we did it right!
After cleaning up the giant mess we had a little dessert. Some Vietnamese-style iced coffee (strong brewed coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk) and a little ice cream.
Gellie wants a sip...
Thus it seems Food and Wine did right by us this time. Pork bellies are delicious and fairly easy to work with. The slaw was great: the tangy, spicy dressing over crunchy veggies was a perfect compliment to the richness of the meat (also we made SO much slaw that both of us brought leftovers for lunch today!). Overall, a successful and enjoyable meal. Thank you Food and Wine!! Send us free stuff!
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