The Trials and Tribulations of The Pork Belly

June 29, 2010

I’m the first to admit that I love pork belly. I’ve eaten it plenty of times in all types of applications from burritos to basted with fois gras butter but I really never worked with it that much. The restaurants where I worked just never used it so my exposure to this delectable dish never came to fruition until last week where I decided to tread through the uncharted territory of the roasted pork belly.
Oh, the elusive pork belly. Be gentle with me!

I’m mean come on, it’s bacon folks. Plain and simple. We’ve had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It goes on salads, in my mac-n-cheese at The Monk’s Kettle and on burgers. How hard is it to make it into a delicious appetizer? Well, for this impatient chef, it took longer than expected but the results were definitely worth the culinary lessons I learned along the way.

Pork belly brining, braising and roasting needs patience. A half-gallon of patience. We brined the bellies in apple cider, sugar, salt, peppercorns and bay leaf for two days which is what I do with my pork chops. Vundabar! I read a number of recipes and treated the product like the pork butt I braised for my bbq pork sandwiches and attempted to treat the bellies like the butts and ying and yang didn’t get along with each other this time.

The bellies came out nice and flaky but I wanted that certain je nes se qua that I enjoyed when dining and enjoying this dish in San Francisco. The bellies I enjoyed were about two to three inches thick with a nice layer of crispy fat that made this dish epic. My bellies were huge and it was like I was cutting off huge chunks for a Texas bbq rather than something that was delicate. I scrapped the first batch which went directly into my bbq pork which I have to say, was wonderful!

I did some more research and found out a key step from Chef Gordon Ramsay. After you braised the bellies, basting them in their own juices and white wine and when “fork tender,” you semi cool them and place them on a sheet tray and then place another sheet tray on top pressing the meat down for twenty-four hours to make them very flat, uniform and easy to work with. I had already brown the skin of my last batch and trying to reheat these monsters would have been a culinary disaster for my customers so down into the cooler they went with three number ten cans of ketchup pressing them to the specs I would hope for.

I came in the next day to see a beautiful sight. Perfectly uniform bellies waiting to be portioned and braised in stock to a crisp golden brown. I served the pork belly with a blemheim apricot compote, house-cured bacon and caramelized baby fennel and a Moonlight Brewing “Working For Tips” demi glace. The reception of all this hard work was overwhelmingly positive. I am already planning on serving pork belly again this week with a different application. I can’t wait!

My actual pork belly dish ala blackberry pic. Could be better but you get the point

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