Pork belly braised in cider, pears served with a pea puree, cucumber pear salad, chicharones and yogurt foam.
If you’ve never made pork belly before – be warned, its a lot of work. When done properly its a three day long labor of love that you’re either going to find so rewarding you’ll be making it all the time, or you’ll never want to see this cut of meat again unless its vacuum sealed and has the work “bacon” on it somewhere. Much like the process of cooking pork belly, this recipe came about after countless batches of pork belly cooked with so many different ingredients – everything from beer and dried chilies to the final recipe that builds if flavors from pears and hard apple cider. If you don’t make this I understand, its a ton of work – but if you do I have faith that you really will enjoy it and the end product with make it worth all your troubles. I put a lot of work into what made this dish come together and I believe you can taste that. Please let me know if you make this and how it came out.
Musical Pairing: Neurosis – Through Silver in Blood. I know its an older album but its a classic – and for good reason. This is one of those albums that was crafted rather than written. Its one of those things where everything that happens does so for a reason and is very important. Its one of those albums that you might not get at first listen but once you do, you’re going to be hooked and there is no turning back. This dish has all that in common plus the heat on this is something of a slow building burn which matches the way this album tends to build intensity before it punches you square in the stomach.
*If your pork belly came with the skin on, please see the note at the end.
1/2 C Salt
1/2 C Sugar
3 Fresh Habaneros
1.5 lbs Pork Belly – (I recommend Mosefund Mangalista)
12oz Hard Apple Cider
1/2 lb fresh pears (about 2 medium pears Bartlett or Anjou will work fine)
1/4 lb Red Onion (sliced)
7 Sprigs Cilantro
3 Cloves Garlic (smashed)
1 TSP Salt
1 TBL Tears of the Sun (or other fruit and habanero hot sauce)
1 TBL Fresh Lime Juice
1/3 C Water
(additional cider and lime juice)
Finely mince two of the habaneros, seeds and ribs included and mix with the 1/2 C of salt and Sugar. Rub the pork belly with this mixture, cover and refrigerate for 24-48 hours.
To cook, peel the pears, cut them in half length wise then cut those pieces in half again, also length wise. You’ll now have a quarter of the pear with the seeds and core exposed on the two flat sides. With one flat side down on your cutting board, take your knife and diagonally cut into the pear – the goal is to find the right angle so that you can remove the core and seeds without losing too much of the pear’s meat.
Pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees. Combine everything in pot or casserole dish with a tight fitting lid – I like something that is stovetop and oven safe, I usually use a smaller Dutch oven for this. Put the pot on the stovetop and cook over high heat until the broth comes to a boil, let boil for five minutes then cover it and place it in the oven for 3-3.5 hours turning it after an hour and a half. Start checking for tenderness after 3 hours. The pork should be fork tender – poke the edge of it with a fork and try to pull the meat away – it should tear off with a little resistance. If its still tough put it back in and check again after another half hour.
Once the pork is done, allow it to cool at room temperature for a half hour then cover it loosely with plastic wrap – leave it in all its fat and juices – and put it in the fridge and press it. To do this, put as many heavy things on top of the pork as you can – water bottles, cans, milk cartons etc. If you have a smaller pan or plate you can put on the pork that will allow for even weight distribution that works the best. Once you have the pork weighted in your fridge, let it sit like that for at least 8 hours but over night is ideal.
The next day, all of the rendered fat will have solidified on top of the pork and braising liquid. Use a spatula to remove as much of the fat as you can and set it aside. Reheat the braising liquid until it is just hot, then puree it in a blender – add a TBL of the fat to it while it is blending – do this in two batches. (Note – when blending hot liquids its important to remove the stopper from the top of you blender – cover with a dish towel so you don’t get splattered). Taste the liquid and adjust seasoning as needed with additional salt and lime juice – if it seems too thick you can thin it with some water of more cider just keep tasting so you can adjust as needed).
Cut the pork into 2″ squares and saute over medium high heat – because of the shape its best to sear on all six sides – once you are on the 6th side, spoon some sauce of the pieces and turn the meat to get it good and coated. This is will caramelize some of the sugars in the sauce and give a nice flavorful glaze to the pork – you might have to rinse your pan in-between batches though – the sauce can burn fast and it will ruin the meat.
1/2 lb of Pears (about 2 medium Anjou or Bartlett)
2 oz English Cucumber (about a 3-4″ piece)
1/4 of a Red Onion
1 TBL Fresh Lime Juice
2 TBL Olive Oil
leaves from 4 sprigs cilantro
1 TSP seeded and stemmed habanero
1 TSP Tears of the Sun
Salt to taste
I like to prepare this about an hour before serving, that little time allows the cucumber and pear to soak up some of the dressings juices and become infused with the flavors – this dish can be prepared a day in advance (that means if there is any left over it will be good the next day as well) but you will lose some of the crunch you get from the cucumbers when they are fresher.
Prep the pears as described above. When they are cored you’re going to cut them into matchstick sized pieces. Cut the pears into 1/8″ slices then cut those into 1/8″ sticks. I like to go longways for aesthetic reasons but you can cut them as long or short as you please. Slice the cucumbers into match sticks of similar size to the pears. For the red onion, I find its best to just slice them thin, 1/2 the size of the cucumber and pear and let the natural layers of the onion do the julienne for you. For the cilantro – just stack the leaves into a well organized pile and slice into thin little ribbons. For the habanero, I like to quarter it length wise them remove as many of the seeds and as much of the ribs as I can – thats where the bulk of the heat is – then cut it into a fine a dice.
Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and salt to taste.
1/2 lb of Frozen Peas
1 TBL + 1/2 TBL Unsalted Butter (separated)
1 Oz Red Onion (chopped)
1 Clove Garlic (minced)
1/4 C + 2 TBL Half and Half
1/2 TSP Salt
Over high head bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the peas. Cook until the water just starts boiling again then quickly strain and submerge in ice water to stop the cooking. In a frying pan, melt 1 TBL of the butter over medium heat – once its hot add the onions and cook until they are translucent – add the garlic and cook for another minute. In a blender – combine the onions, garlic and butter from the pan with the peas, salt and half and half – puree until smooth. Through the opening in the top of the blender add the 1/2 TBL butter in two pieces – waiting till the first one is incorporated before adding the second one.
Transfer to small sauce pan and set aside – reheat on low for a few minutes stirring often before serving.
2 C nonfat yogurt
2 Charges for a whipped cream canister
This is done for two reasons – first it adds a little extra texture to the dish but more importantly it helps dilute the intense flavor of the yogurt – which if served plain would be a little over powering.
If you don’t have a whipped cream canister, which I completely understand, just take a cup of the yogurt and whisk it for a bit a to loosen it up some and incorporate some air.
If you have a canister, add the yogurt to a blender and blend until it is liquified, add it to your canister and hit it with two charges as instructed by the manufacturer.
*Pork Skin Chicharones
If you got pork belly with the skin on you can make chicharones from the skin but be warned – there’s nothing fun about it. Its messy dangerous and time consuming but at the end you get deep fried crispy pork skins and it all becomes worth it. If you got skinless pork belly, some markets actually sell the pork skin on its own. If you’re so inclined, you can pick some of that up for this – its a dirt cheap product.
Its a two day process, just like the pork belly so its not a terrible undertaking – hey you’re gonna be doing a shitload of cooking all ready so whats a little more right? On the first day – we boil the skin. At a rolling boil for two hours (and yes it will make your house smell funky and porky) – keep it uncovered so it doesn’t spill over and add more water as it evaporates. Drain it and let it cool. Once its cool to the touch use a spoon to scrape off whatever remaining fat there is on the back of the skin, you want to get as much off as you can so you have only skin left.
Next – arrange the skin on drying rack in a single layer and refrigerate uncovered for 24 hours – 48 would be better but 24 is manageable – if you have a dehydrator you could use that here instead.
Now that your pork is dry, cut it into 1/4″ strips and its time to weaponize your stove – we have to deep fry these things and no matter what you did to get them dry this part dangerous as hell. As soon as they hit the oil they are going to pop , splatter, and burn you – I’ve stood back a good five feet and I’ve still gotten hit. I’ve tried covering hte pot with a lid that was just skewed a little so it could still breath and the oil always finds that opening to splash out of so unless you have a home deep fryer with a cover, you’re in for an experience. Set a pot with about 4″ of corn oil in it over medium high heat until it reaches a temperature of 390 degrees – I know its hot for frying but the pork skin needs this. Deep fry in handful sized batched for about 5 minutes per batch – about a minute after they stop popping they’re ready.
As they fry, you’re going to notice that they want to stick together. I’ve tried staggering them on the way in, stirring, poking, prodding, its just a mess so don’t even try to combat it, all you’re going to do is burn your hand. There’re gonna stick together and create this tangled nest like mass and you’re powerless to stop it. After they’ve stopped bubbling and popping for about a minute, take them out with spider and let them drain on a tray lined with paper towels – season generously with salt and paprika – do that while they are hot. Once they are cool enough to handle, you can break apart the nest of fried pork skin you’ve made into bite sized strips.
I don’t like to tell people how to eat but there’s a lot of components on this dish – the actual presentation isn’t important but here’s what is. You want to base of the dish to be the pea puree, that goes down first because its the mildest of flavors, that way when you cut into everything all the flavors from above mix with it. You can put the pork on top of the salad or vice versa – just make sure that you spoon some of the braising liquid directly on the meat, it really wakes it up. You can put the yogurt and the chicharone where ever you like, I like the yogurt foam in a small batch next to the meat and the chicharone on top so that it doesn’t get soggy.