with a Recipe For Crispy Pork Belly
Several years ago, somewhere deep in Oakland’s Chinatown, in a non-descript hole-in-the-wall, I found myself deliciously alone. Why and how I had managed a moment completely to myself still eludes me. But there I was alone with one of the most gorgeous yet oddly pornographic things I’d ever laid my eyes on.
A Steaming Clay Pot full of Glistening Pork Belly
You would think growing up Filipina in the Deep South where I learned to cook and eat, I would have encountered such a gloriously unadulterated rendition of the belly long before. But alas, that had not been the case and I must confess, those first solitary moments, mouth filled with luxurious pork fat love, were something akin to masturbating in public. It was around the time that I began to see the bottom of the pot that I finally came (to). Slightly jarred, disoriented and sporting a sweat mustache, I hastily paid the check and drove home contemplating a confession to my wife.
Five years later, extremely burnt out/hungover by the viscous cycle of opening the ninth restaurant of my career, (and the first with my own money and name on the door!), I hired a sous chef, and in him, met an even more intense lover of all things pork. In fact, there have been actual times when I’ve had to look away embarrassedly as he manually shredded and seasoned our slow roasted pork butt, all the while tasting and moaning in the most self stimulating tones. Lard knows what was going through his twisted Yucateco mind (?) Of course when I introduced the idea of doing something with pig belly, Senor Sous Chef was all over it.
Originally I had picked some up from Restaurant Depot but the product overall was subpar: freezer-burnt, too thin, too fatty. The price was great and we had fun working out the kinks with it, but I couldn’t commit. Next, we tried the belly from our local meat company. It was much better, but cost a whole $2.75 more per pound and it wasn’t always available.
Then one day, lo and behold while wondering around our local Vietnamese bodega, looking for Lard knows what, I noticed the butcher there breaking down whole pigs. Duh!? What a dumbass I was for not even considering these guys. How many times on our four block commute, at all hours through the lovely Tenderloin district, had my wife (slash business partner) been accosted by this:
Yes ladies and gentlemen. It’s the Pig Carcass Truck. And while my wife and I are total carnivores (me especially), and I am totally down with foraging, hunting, fishing and preparing my own meals tail to snout, you have to admit this is still a tough sight to swallow, especially on your way to work after a particularly heavily spirited night out with the ladies of Brenda’s (aka our Front of the House Crew). Whiskey for me, vodka for the lady please.
Anyway, the belly from the Vietnamese bodega turned out to be the total winner. Great price, nice thickness, super fresh and it’s always nice to support a local fellow small business. This is especially true when the owner calls you “Nice Lady” and keeps you and your staff well stocked with these really awesomely addictive guava candies.
Truly the only drawback to our arrangement is that they close for an entire month once a year for Tet and that the butcher does not bother to remove all of the hair or any of the nipples.
Ultimately though, the whole point of this was to create a yummy pork belly dish. I wanted to serve it for brunch to our most captivated and hungryman group of diner’s, thus the brunch-y accoutrements.
Our Crispy Pork Belly with Cheddar Grits, Poached Egg and Spicy Onion Relish
OK, for the belly itself. At the restaurant we go through about 80 pounds of the stuff a week, but I’ll be nice and scale the recipe down to 4 pounds (to feed about 6-8 people).
First, pick up a 4 lb. slab of pork belly (skin on) from your local butcher, much cheaper at the Asian market. Remember though if you do pick up it from your local Chinatown you’ll probably have some nipple and hair issues to deal with.
Next, into a pan large enough to hold the belly make a paste by stirring together:
½ Cup Soy Sauce
2 TB Salt
1 TSP Gound Black Pepper
2 TB Minced Garlic
2 TB C Cayenne
1 Cup Diced Onion
2 TB Dried Thyme
Thoroughly coat the slab with the paste. Use your hands to do this and actually rub it in a little. Use gloves if you have sissy fingers. Cover with plastic and marinate for 24 hours.
The next day, line the bottom of a small baking pan with parchment paper and place the slab skin side down making sure to keep as much paste as possible along for the ride. Pour warm water over the slab just to cover it, cover slab with more parchment then cover pan with foil. Bake in a still oven (not convection) at 375* for about 3 ½ hours or until fork tender.
After the belly is cooked, remove from your oven and remove foil and top layer of parchment. Let cool in the pan on a counter somewhere for an hour or two. While the belly is still pretty warm you need to remove the belly to a parchment lined pan or plate to cool in the refrigerator for at least four hours. I find using a super wide fish spatula to pick up the slab extremely useful if you have one. It’s important that you follow this step and not try to cut the belly into smaller portions while it’s hot or you’ll be left with a sloppy mess. Also do not let the belly chill and congeal in it’s braising liquid either or you’ll end up shredding it while trying to separate it from what would now be an obscenely fat pork gelee. We save all of that loveliness to use it in our Spicy Ass Onion Relish that we serve with the finished belly dish.
If you’ve gotten this far in the process, congratulations and thanks for paying attention. Now all you have left to do is slice the belly into serving portions of your preference and sear in a hot pan to reheat and crisp up the skin.
At the restaurant we serve the belly on top a big bowl of yellow cheddar grits with a poached egg and a big spoonful of the aforementioned onion relish. If you really, really want the recipes for the rest of our pork belly dish that we serve or other recommendations to go with the very sexy pork belly that you’ve just worked so diligently on, go ahead and email me for them because this post has already gone on way too long…