Vegetarians, avert your eyes…
We’re getting into the nitty gritty of pork belly today.
The pork belly ramen at David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant was one of my first experiences. Rodney and I went several years ago, waited for hours for a table, and sat down to ramen that can only be described as “well worth the wait.” A sweet harmony between chewy noodles, the porkiest pork broth, the belly itself, and what I now know to be a perfectly-runny 5:10 minute soft-boiled egg.
I soon decided to tackle pork belly at home, buying it in smaller pieces before graduating to larger roasts, which is what I prefer to cook these days. It makes enough for dinner and leaves plenty of meat for leftovers.
Although it shouldn’t have been a surprise – pork belly is essentially a big slab of bacon – I thought that it was funny when my kids started to request it for dinner. Spaghetti with tomato sauce, chicken tenders….pork belly.
If I were to rank the nutritional value of pork belly, it would rank right up there next to candy canes. So we don’t eat it often, making it an infrequent luxury.
But considering that it is the holidays, and that we’ll be eating like gluttons all week long, what’s the harm in an additional 1,000-calorie meal, correct?
I’ve been in a Thanksgiving frame of mind and can’t stop using all manner of sage and cranberry; forgive me if you’re facing an overload of these ingredients. December will be about fruit cake and royal icing, and at a certain point you’re welcome to tell me to stop featuring those too.
Belly is nothing to look at in its raw state. You can buy it with the skin on – which is how it’s typically sold. You can alternatively ask your butcher to remove the skin, or do it yourself at home.
I’ve roasted pork belly with the skin on before, and it comes out flavorful, but with the texture of shoe leather. David Chang suggests that you keep the skin and make Chicharrón, but it involves a dehydrator and some technical skill in removing every last trace of fat. Count me in for that exercise when I retire to Palm Springs with my silver hair and Mephistos. Until then, there are far too many kids in the kitchen, husband included.
For now, let’s talk about the rest of the belly. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, this one is rubbed with a mixture of salt, sugar, chopped fresh sage and orange zest. I love citrus at this time of year, but Satsumas, with their vibrant color and sweet juice is perfect for this. But pick a favorite orange, anything will work.
Don’t forget to drink a beer while you’re making it.
Roast on high heat for an hour, then turn down the temp to low. Much of the fat will render out, leaving you with soft, shreddable meat and a crunchy exterior.
While the belly is roasting, switch gears and make your cranberry sauce.
One of my favorite cranberry sauce recipes is the one that I make for Thanksgiving every year. It’s a Zinfandel-based sauce, whose spicy notes are accentuated by the addition of brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves.
I made a slightly different version for my pork – using a foundation of red wine, but adding orange peel, cinnamon, and when cooked, a few drops of bitters.
I first used bitters in something other than cocktails this summer when I added a few drops of Angostura to a cherry pie. A favorite pie blog of mine had done something similar and I was intrigued.
Bitters will give your sauce or sweets an unexpected, slightly herbal flavor – just don’t use too much. They’re potent and in the blink of an eye, your dish will taste like nothing but bitters. Also, the kind of bitters that you use will influence the end result – some are stronger than others. Play around, see what flavors, and what intensity you like in your food.
I’ve discovered a new brand of bitters from a company called Dram Apothecary – they carry it at my local Forager’s Market, but you can also find it online. The packaging and flavors are so playful, and I’ve loved using it in everything from food to cocktails and even tea.
Their Hair of the Dog bitters are made with ingredients such as Ginger, Cassia bark, Orange Peel, Kudzu Root, Licorice Root and Butternut Bark, making them a great complement to the orange and red wine in the cranberry sauce. If you can’t find Dram bitters, feel free to use Angostura bitters or any other brand as a substitute. The cranberry sauce would be great without the bitters too, but I find that bitters make the dish more interesting.
Your end result is a ruby-hued jar of cranberry sauce that you can use with the pork, your Thanksgiving turkey, or spooned in between a grilled cheese.
To get the sauce to the right glazing consistency for the pork, you’ll have to thin it out with water, a touch of wine, or even pomegranate molasses.
And that’s it – pork that can be served at the dinner table, or used like I did – in an open-faced sandwich reminiscent of your Thanksgiving next-day sandwich: bread, mayo, fresh greens, roasted squash, and a big heaping portion of sliced meat.
And a quick tip – keep some of the belly separate (unglazed) for other meals during the week. It plays well with any kind of noodle soup…or do like I did, which is shred it over breakfast soft tacos.
Enjoy everyone, and if you’re celebrating, have a wonderful Thanksgiving this week!
- For the pork
- 1 3-lb piece pork belly, skin removed (it can also be in multiple pieces- often it’s cut into strips at the grocery store)
- 2 Tablespoons of fresh sage, chopped
- 1 Tablespoon of salt
- 1 Tablespoon of pepper
- 1 Tablespoon of orange zest
- 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
- For the cranberry sauce
- 2 cups fresh cranberries
- 1/3 cup red wine
- 1/3 cup orange juice
- 2/3 cup brown sugar (or more to taste – I like my cranberry sauce a little bit tart)
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- Several large strips of orange peel (just the outer peel, not the pith)
- 3-6 drops of aromatic bitters, e.g. Dram, Angostura, etc.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Remove the pork belly from the fridge and let it come to room temp- approx 30 minutes.
- In a small bowl, mix the sage, salt, pepper and orange zest.
- Place the pork belly in a roasting dish, and coat the belly in olive oil, rubbing into the meat.
- Rub the herb mixture all over the pork belly, coating evenly.
- Place the pork belly in the oven and let it roast until the top is crispy, about 45 mins-1 hour.
- Reduce the oven to 300 degrees, and continue roasting for another 2 hours. The longer you roast the meat, the crispier it will become. For crispier meat, roast longer – if you want softer, more shreddable meat, aim for 2 hours.
- While the meat is roasting, you can make the cranberry sauce. In a medium saucepan, combine all of the cranberry sauce ingredients, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. You should hear the cranberries start to pop – let them cook down, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes.
- Taste the sauce – if it’s too tart, you can add a little more sugar and cook for a few more minutes.
- When the sauce is done, remove it from the stove, and stir in your bitters. Again, check for flavor, adding a little more if needed.
- If you’re going to use the cranberry sauce to glaze the pork (as opposed to eating it on the side), you’ll want to thin it out into a glazing consistency. You can do this by adding some of your cranberry sauce to a small bowl (a few Tablespoons will do), and then adding some liquid- either a little more squeezed orange juice, a touch more wine, or even water. Stir to combine.
- When the pork is nearly done, glaze it with your cranberry mixture, and stick it back in the oven for another 20 minutes. Just until the glaze is shiny and sticky.
- Remove the meat to a carving board, let stand for 5-10 minutes, and then carve.
- Pork can stay in the fridge, well-wrapped, for up to 2 days.