from the NYT Magazine, 11/11/07

I haven’t concentrated on special recipes lately. Mostly the food that shows up on my dinner plate involves blanched and then sauteed broccoli rabe over pasta or one of the soups I’ve already posted. I made Patricia Wells’ Rabbit in Mustard Sauce, but wasn’t happy with the result. I’ll give that another go next weekend.

When I noticed the pork belly recipe in last week’s NYT magazine, I perked up. But I was suspicious. Plum wine? Star anise? Was this dish going to turn out cloyingly sweet and gooey? Not, mind you, that I have deep ideological objections to cloyingly sweet and gooey foods. I simply wasn’t sure I understood the logic of this dish. Now I get it. It’s a good recipe, provided you put a bridle on it and rein it in.

Here’s how it’s presented in the magazine:

1 bunch scallions
1 4-lb pork belly
Salt and ground black pepper
2 T canola oil
2 oz ginger, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1/4 cum plum wine
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups soy sauce
1 cup mirin
5 star anise
8 baby bok choy, rinsed and cut through the core into 1/2 inch pieces
Chinese hot mustard (optional)
Cooked udon noodles or rice (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove and thinly slice the dark green parts of the scallions, enough for 2 tablespoons, and set them aside. Cut the white and light green parts into 1-inch pieces.

2. Season the pork with salt and pepper. In a braising pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Brown the pork on all sides. Transfer to a plate.

3. Add the 1-inch scallion pieces, the ginger, carrot and celery to the pan and cook over medium-high heat until the scallions are tender, about 5 mins. Add the wines, bring to a boil and reduce by half. Return the pork to the pan, skin-side up. Stir in the soy sauce, mirin, star anise and enough water to cover the meat by three-fourths. Bring to a boil, then cover the liquid with parchment and the pan with a tightly fitting lid or foil. Braise in the oven until the pork is tender, about 2 hours.

4. Transfer the pork to a plate. Strain the braising liquid through a fine-mesh sieve. Discard the solids. Return the liquid to the pan, skim off the fat and bring to a boil. In batches, add the bok choy and boil until tender, about 2 mins. Cut pork into 1/2-inch thick slices and divide, along with the bok choy, among 8 soup bowls. Pour the braising liquid over each and top with the sliced green scallions. If you choose, serve with Chinese hot mustard and cook udon noodles or rice.

serves 8.

My Version:

First of all, I started with a slab of pork belly that weighed in just under 2 pounds. Plenty for two.

I used half a bunch of scallions, about half the amount of vegetables, and half the wine, soy sauce and mirin. A little star anise goes a long way, to my taste, so I put two and a fragment star anises in the liquid. You’d never know by the aromas wafting through my house that I had added less.

I followed the instructions closely right through the braising. However, I found that the liquid reduced perilously close to glue after one hour and forty minutes. I’m glad I checked it when I did. The liquid had reduced by more than half. I removed the pork to a plate, strained the liquid and returned it to the pan. I did not skim the fat off, because it did not seem necessary. I let the boy choy saute in the liquid.

After slicing the pork belly, I put a few slices in my bowl, added a bok choy, and poured a sparing amount of the juice over it all. I sprinkled some green onions over it.

Last thoughts:

To tell the truth, I’m not sure I liked it. Overall, the dish turned out very well. I liked the sauce much more than I expected. The green onion sliced right through the greasiness of the fat. It played the same role that the tomato cucumber lightly dressed with a vinaigrette did in the other pork belly recipe I posted.

Even though I salted the pork well at the beginning, I thought it was a touch underseasoned at the end. It’s worth noting, too, that another twenty to thirty minutes in the oven might have just tipped it over the edge into succulent, spoon-edible readiness. Nevertheless, I didn’t need a knife to cut the slices on my plate.

Before I eat the leftover slices, sauce, and bok choy, I intend to buy hot Chinese mustard. I think that will be a wonderful addition. And I’ll cook up a little udon. I should have followed through and completed all the parts.

I enjoyed this dish quite a lot. But it lacked the richness, sweetness, and crispness of Henderson’s pork belly. Perhaps it’s an unfair comparison. Both recipes deserves repeated visits.