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Today: Pork belly isn't just for restaurants anymore.
When the pork belly craze swept restaurants across the country a few years back, it accomplished two things -- one of them good:
1. It reminded us that we can -- and should -- eat pork belly without turning it into bacon first.
2. At the same time, it saddled pork belly with a reputation: for restaurant kitchens only. We assume it's an unfriendly, hard-to-find cut -- one we like a whole lot, but one we'd need to sous vide or put in a fancy bun.
But Christopher Hirscheimer and Melissa Hamilton -- from the heavenly place known as Canal House -- are here to take our hands, gently place in them 3 pounds of pork belly, and give us all the secrets to releasing its magic.
Those secrets don't require any special machinery or a food handler's certificate -- they're techniques you already know, or can learn on the fly. You won't be able to whip this up on a whim, but there's not much expected of you, other than patience.
This is all there is to it: The night before you want to serve the thing, you'll score the fatty top layer, criss-crossed, to help the fat melt away. Then you pat it with salt, sugar, thyme, and black pepper and stick it in the fridge overnight. There, you just dry-brined.
The next day, you'll lay the belly on a bed of wine and onions in a pot and slow-braise it at 250° F for a few hours. (This part will barely warm your kitchen.)
When you can prod it and it sways without resisting, you'll crank the heat to 400° F for about another hour, and the edges will turn into a crackly brown shell.
The last, not-optional step is a compote. You'll gather up a lot of intensely spicy, sweet, and briny ingredients, dump them in a skillet, and add rhubarb till sticky (about 15 minutes). All that vinegar and ginger and spice might scare you a little, but you'd be unwise not to follow them.
Food52er cristinasciarra put it best: "Once you try this recipe, you will see that the only right, true, and honorable way to eat pork belly is atop a golden raisin-packed, caper-speckled, red pepper flake-laden, brown sugar-laced, gingery rhubarb compote. There is no other way." I'm inclined to agree.
3 pounds pork belly, skin removed, fat intact
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, sliced into 1/2-inch rings
1 cup dry white wine
Gingery Rhubarb Compote:
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 tablespoon drained capers
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 pound rhubarb, trimmed, sliced 1/2-inch thick
Photos by James Ransom