I was going to write about smoothies this week but it just seems easier to write about pork belly.
Now, even I can’t be “The Bacon Guy” every day. I’ve worked hard these past seven months or so to change my eating habits, making sure I have plenty of fruit in the morning and trying to center my evening meals around vegetables and whole grains. I’ve developed a strange affinity for turnip greens and no longer grimace when unsweetened iced tea crosses the threshold of my mouth and I really, really think the world would be a better place if we were all a little bit thoughtful about what we ate.
Okay… I get it.
But at some point we have to take stock and remember who we are. Yes, I still eat bacon. Yes, this is still a blog about pork products. Yes, I still think about ways to adding bacon to popcorn and toffee and yes I still grunt primally when I smell it from eight miles away, and yes I would fight man three times my size in an alley in the seedy back alleys of Barcelona for the last piece of perfectly seasoned chorizo (I would totally frikkin win, too) and yes, I want to lurk in the trees like Rambo and pounce upon wild boar with my knife and build an elaborate necklace out of its rib bones and yes, I want to smear myself in pig fat and run through the streets singing “alouette” at the top of my lungs.
But I’d settle for some pork belly.
The porcine undercarriage and I share a tricky history. I have no empirical data to support this – but I think the cut inspires people toward overly elaborate preparations that turn out relatively well, but hardly worth the effort. Frankly, Ive been guilty. Nonetheless, as long as you don’t allow the meat to dry out and use enough seasoning, you’ll do fine.
I am reminded of this Married to the Sea cartoon…
This time I opted for a straight-up braise. I figured a gentle, flavorful simmer would work as long as the meat remained submerged and the liquid was sharp enough to cut through the fat.
This, by the way, is my braising vessel of choice. It is from Belgium, and although technically it is an antique, you can find them on Ebay periodically. It’s smaller size allows meat to remain submerged without a great deal of liquid, and the underside of the lid is ribbed so that evaporated liquid will condense evenly on top rather than just leaking off to the side. Everyone needs one of these, along with a cast-iron skillet, a good whisk, a sharp chef’s knife, and a big cutting board.
So braising is like the NCAA’s. There are automatic qualifiers and at-large selections. You’ll usually find onions and carrots and celery and garlic. There will be a flavorful liquid or two, usually a mix of broth and wine and juice. But there will almost always be one key, unique ingredient particular to each dish (and usually an old standby that happens to find itself on the wrong side of the bubble).
In this case that Cinderella ingredient was apple. I decided to braise with a mixture of broth and cider.
As much as I have an aversion to eating raw whole-apples (it’s a texture thing), pork with apple is among my favorite parings. I don’t care if it’s a bed of applesauce under you pork chops or an Applejack sauce drizzled over loin medallions or just sauteed apples with bacon… the two flavors are just made for each other. The instant sweet tang seems to just slowly meld into the rich, fatty saltyness of the pig – I don’t know of two other strong tastes that work so harmoniously.
Anyway, make sure to choose a cut of meat that will fit into whatever contraption you are going to use to cook it with, and you may need to adjust the liquid to match. In this case, I used 1:1:1/4 with cider, chicken stock, and red wine. You can just continue tasting the liquid as it cooks to make sure the base liquid is to your liking.
And Remember my NCAA analogy? Tomatoes or Tomato sauce is Duke, and it’s 1995. You can assume they’ll be there, but in this particular case, they just don’t qualify. Leave them out.
Cider-Braised Pork Belly (serves about 4)
1 3 pound hunk of pork belly, salted
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups apple cider or apple juice
2 cups of chicken broth
1/2 cup red wine
2 bay leaves
Olive Oil, salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 300
Bring the pork belly to room temperature. We’ve covered this.
Place a small bit of olive oil into your braising pot over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the pork belly and cook on each side until just browned. Remove meat and set aside.
Add veggies to the pot, and stir for a moment. Add the chicken broth and stir until all brown bits from the bottom of the pan are dissolved.
Return the meat to the pot and add the cider and wine and bay leaf.
Bring to a bare simmer, cover, and place in the oven.
Check the meat every fifteen minutes to make sure the meat is submerged and the liquid is not boiling and the “liquid” tastes the way you want it to.
When the meat is tender and registers about 150, remove pot from the oven. Remove meat from and set aside. Reduce the liquid into a thick glaze.
Slice the meat into small strips, return to the pot, to cover with the glaze.