Saturday, January 15, 2011

Slow Cooked Pork Belly Part 1

 Pork belly.  It's cheap, it requires almost no supervision and the result is luscious and porky and versatile.  You'll need to plan ahead with this recipe as you need an overnight cure in the refrigerator, 5-6 hours of cooking time and then overnight again in the refrigerator.  But really, the prep and cooking of it is very hands off.  You could even go see a movie or two while it's transforming itself in your oven.  Insert Public Service Announcement here: Just don't go see Black Swan or 127 Hours before you come home and try to eat. You're welcome.

I bought this pork belly at a local Asian market.  I looked for the thickest piece they had with a nice layer of fat on top.  If yours comes with the skin on (which mine did), just get it really cold and then slice that tough layer of skin off, leaving as much fat behind as you can. 

 Here's a fun fact I learned from Chef David Chang: save the cooking liquid that's left in the pan after cooking the pork belly.  Refrigerate it and then take off the solid layer of fat that rises to the top.  Use that as a flavorful cooking fat (like bacon grease or duck fat).  What's left at the bottom is liquid gold known as "pork jelly" that can be added to soups and sauces to really beef up, or should I say, pork up the flavor.

Your new BFF, pork jelly.
Once you cook the pork belly, you will cover it and compress it with a weighted pan in the refrigerator overnight.  This will compress the meat and melting fat into one compact bite full of flavor.  After that, go hog wild!  My pork jokes are killing you, huh?

See this is why I couldn't work out this day.  Really.  I felt like such an oinker.
Once you've cooked the pork, I suggest one preparation below Part 1-Maple Glazed Pork Belly.  Part 2 will be Steamed Buns with Pork Belly...coming soon.  Because the pork belly is so rich, a little goes a long way and you may want to serve something acidic, bright and crunchy with it to balance the richness.  Try not to pig out!  Gotcha again.

Pork cubes, awaiting their maple bath.

 Slow-Cooked Pork Belly
2.5 to 3 pound slab of pork belly
1/4c brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
3 sprigs of rosemary
3 sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped off

Pork Belly Cubes with Maple Glaze
Slow-Cooked Pork Belly 
3T maple syrup

1. If skin is still on pork belly, refrigerate until very cold.  With a sharp knife, slice the skin off of the pork belly, keeping as much of the fat intact.

2. Mix brown sugar, kosher salt and thyme leaves together and rub over all sides of the pork belly.  Place pork in a pyrex or roasting pan that is about the same size as the slab of pork belly.  You do not want a lot of room around the meat, you want a close fit.  Tuck the sprigs of rosemary underneath, on top and around belly.  Wrap in pan in plastic and refrigerate for 6-24 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 250 F.  Remove meat from refrigerator.  Unwrap pork belly, rinse or brush off salt and sugar cure and place back in your pan.  Do not dump out whatever liquid has accumulated during your cure. Note: I did not rinse or brush off my salt and sugar and my pork belly was somewhat salty.  I was ok with it but you may want to brush or rinse it off depending on your salt tolerance.

4.  Cook in oven, uncovered for 5-6 hours.  You can baste it occasionally with the liquid in the bottom of the pan if you'd like.  After 5 hours, test with a fork.  It should be very tender.  Not falling apart but you could cut it with a fork. 

5.  Once out of the oven, let cool in same roasting pan then cover dish with plastic wrap.   Put a pan on top (I used a loaf pan) and weight it down.  Literally.  I used a 10 lb. hand weight.  Refrigerate overnight.  You are trying to compress the pork belly. 

6.  Remove from refrigerator and slice while cold.  I cut half into large 2 x 2 inch cubes and sliced the rest. 

7.  Return the slices to the refrigerator for our upcoming pork buns recipe.  Let the cubes come to room temp.  Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. 

8.  Brush the top of the pork belly cubes (the fat portion) with maple syrup and put them fat side down in the heated pan for 1-2 minutes. Next turn cubes on all 4 sides to warm them briefly. You are not trying to cook the belly further, just warm it.  Serve at once. 

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