NYT’s Crisp and Unctuous Pork Belly Grilled on Gas Grill

DSC04548

from The New York Times, May 20, 2009

Another title for this recipe might be “Adventures in Grilling.” Is this the third or fourth pork belly recipe that I’ve posted? I no longer remember. It certainly is memorable. The image of Sherry practically engulfed in flames emanating from the gas grill will stick with me. There is a flaw in this recipe that is worth fixing. Perhaps more than one flaw. Crisp and unctuous as advertised, this pork belly version requires some thought and planning.

But apart from the design flaws inherent in the recipe, the question of pig skin preceeds all considerations. I haven’t been able to find pork belly with the skin still attached, even though nearly every roast pork belly recipe I’ve found assumes the piece I have to cook still has skin attached. As I learned from the friends who raised and sold me the pork belly, leaving the skin on certain cuts of pork is labor-intensive and, as a result, more costly. Pig skin requires boiling and scraping. Slaughtering a pig and preparing the carcass for the butcher’s takes far less time and effort is the skin is removed. The lack of skin on the piece of pork belly I had to roast is the start of the problem in this recipe — but it’s not the only problem.

My interlineated comments will reveal the why and wherefor:

Adapted from “Serious Barbecue,” by Adam Perry Lang (Hyperion, 2009).

Time: 6 1/2 hours, plus at least 12 hours’ marinating and 2 hours’ resting

For the Marinade:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup cider vinegar

10 cloves garlic, peeled and halved

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons fresh thyme

2 tablespoons sliced serrano pepper

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

For the pork:

1 4-pound piece of pork belly, skin-on

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup bourbon

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons chives, chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper.

1. In a blender, pulse marinade ingredients until roughly chopped. Transfer to a 1-gallon freezer bag and add pork belly and 1 cup water. Squeeze to remove air, then seal and refrigerate at least 12 hours.

Shadowcook: First of all, I worked with a 3 pound piece of pork belly and had to cut it in half in order to fit it in the plastic bag.

2. When ready to cook, heat oven to 275 degrees. Place pork in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with marinade, butter and water to cover. Cover with heavy-duty foil, crimping edges tightly. Braise in oven 5 1/2 hours; let rest in pan, covered, 2 hours.

3. Meanwhile, simmer bourbon in a small pan over medium heat until alcohol aroma fades. Stir in sugar, parsley, vinegar and pepper flakes. Cover and set aside.

4. Heat a grill. Carefully remove pork from pan and place in a grilling basket. Grill skin-side down over medium-low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until skin is crisp and golden. Remove from heat and brush skin side with 1/4 of the bourbon glaze, then return to heat, skin-side up, for another 5 minutes. Remove pork from heat once more and brush meat side with 1/4 of the glaze, then return to heat, meat-side up, for another 5 minutes. Repeat with remaining glaze on both sides.

Shadowcook: I followed the above instructions exactly and nearly set my deck on fire. I used my gas grill this time. Without the skin, the fat on the pork belly dripped down onto the fire. Even when I turned off the middle burner, flames shot out. The instructions do not mention whether the lid should remain up or closed. I didn’t have a choice. Fat-fuelled flames shot out of the lid. I had to stand there and manipulate the grill basket, removing it and replacing it on the grill when the flames diminished. Had the skin been left on the pork belly, would as much fat have ignited a fire as this piece? Probably not, but I find it hard to believe that there would have been no flames and no fire. As it turned out, I barely had time to brush the sauce over the surface of the pork before another fire broke out. I’m tempted to say, “Do not attempt this at home” but instead will only issue a caution.

5. Dress a cutting board with half the olive oil, lemon juice and chives, and salt and pepper. Place pork skin side up on cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining olive oil, lemon juice and chives, and salt and pepper. Cut into 1-by-4-inch pieces and serve.

Yield: 8 servings.

Shadowcook: Indisputably delicious, but worth it? The meat was beyond fork-tender. In fact, it was almost too moist, if that’s possible. The marinade and sauce delivered a complex package of flavors, but the flavors might have been heightened with the addition of a bit more salt.

Recommend

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Roast Pork Belly (and one relish)

dsc04083from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, pp. 114-15.

Traveling to other people’s holiday meals can be one of the drawbacks of living alone, especially now that traffic in northern California grows worse every year. For a long time now, I’ve been giving some thought to instituting my own traditions in my own home. For instance, I would like to establish a custom of throwing an annual open-house over the holiday break, but that’s unlikely to begin this year. Instead, I plan on cooking a nice, festive meal on Christmas day at home.

Like a lot of people, I don’t crave the usual foods cooked at Thanksgiving. I’d rather do something different. So, two days after Thanksgiving, I decided to try Ottolenghi’s Roast Pork Belly, which Ann made while I was in London. That first attempt — and a second one of hers that reinforced in us both the pitfalls of the recipe — made it clear that he set the roasting temperature far too high. It’s difficult to imagine an oven or kitchen in which one could roast a pork belly at 500 degrees for an hour. You’d certainly get crackling, but you’d also get a smoky kitchen and a charred baking dish, which is what we wound up with in the London kitchen.

A recipe like this also makes me envy the British once again for the butcher’s cuts commonly available. A pork belly in the UK comes with thicker skin than I can find on the cuts here. A soft, leathery skin makes for great crackling.

So, here’s Ottolenghi’s recipe straight up, warts and all:

Roast Pork Belly

1 bunch of thyme, roughly chopped

1 bunch of rosemary, roughly chopped

1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and crushed

150 ml olive oil

1 piece of pork belly, weighing 2-3 kg

1 bottle of white wine

coarse sea salt and black pepper

1. Heat the oven to 250 C [500 F] or its highest setting. Place the herbs, garlic and olive oil in a heavy-duty blender or food processor and purée them roughly.

2. Lay the pork belly in an oven tray, skin-side down, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Use your hands to spread the herb mixture evenly all over the top, pressing it on so it sticks to the meat.

3. Turn the belly skin-side up, wipe the skin dry with kitchen paper and sprinkle sea salt evenly all over the skin (but don’t put too much on, as it might create a crust and prevent the crackling forming). Put the tray in the oven and roast for 1 hour, turning the tray around every 20 minutes. Once the skin has formed some crackling, turn the oven down to 170 C [325 F], pour the white wine into the tray (avoiding the pork skin) and continue roasting for another hour. If the belly starts turning black, cover it with foil.

4. For the last cooking stage, turn the oven down to 110 C [225 F] and continue roasting for another hour, until the skin has crackled completely and thoroughly dried.

5. Remove the pork from the oven. Use a sharp knife to divide it into segments of a few ribs, cutting between the rib bones. Give as many ribs per portion as the appetite demands. [Serve with the following relish.]

Spice red plum, ginger, and rhubarb relish

5 red plums (about 240 g), stoned and cut into quarters

1 red chilli, halved and seeded

2 cinnamon sticks

1 star anise

100 ml red wine vinegar

200 g caster [baker’s fine] sugar

4 stalks of champagne rhubarb (about 200g), cut into 3 cm lengths

a small knob of fresh ginger, peeled, very thinly sliced, then cut into tiny strips

1. Heat the oven to 150 C. [325 F]. Place the plums and chilli in a heavy-based saucepan and add the cinnamon, star anise, vinegar and half the sugar. Stir well, bring to a light boil and simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally and skimming any froth from the surface if necessary. The plum should have a jam-like consistency. To check this, chill a saucer, put a teaspoonful of the chutney on it, then run your finger through it; it should stay separated. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

2. While the plums are simmering away, place the rhubarb, ginger and remaining sugar in an ovenproof dish. Rub them together with your hands and place in the oven. Cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the rhubarb is tender. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

3. Combine th eplums and rhubarb and mix well, remove the chilli, then transfer to a jar and leave to cool. Either serve the relish straight away with the pork or store in the fridge, where it will keep for a week or two.

To make the pork belly for myself…

I should start with the relish, actually, since I made it a week ago. That it worked so well with the pork belly in the end is a testament to its versatility, because rhubarb has disappeared from the stores. I increased the amount of plums, used only 2/3s of the sugar. It keeps very well in the fridge as long as it’s tightly sealed in a jar.

I bought a 2 lb slab of frozen pork belly, which the butcher sawed in two and rewrapped it. For my own meal, I used one of the two slabs. The directions in step 1, 2, and most of step 3 are straightforward. I placed the pork belly, slathered on one side with garlic and herbs, in a pyrex deep pie dish.

But instead of setting the temperature at 500, I preheated it to 450. After putting the pork belly in the oven, I reduced the temperature to 350 and set my timer for 20 minutes. When the bell rang, I turned the dish part way round and set the timer again for another 20 minutes and then another 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, before the first hour was up, I poured 2 cups of white wine and added whatever was left of the garlic-herb-oil mixture into a saucepan and let it come to a soft simmer. It makes no sense to me to add room temperature — or worse, cold — white wine to a hot oven. It would just reduce the heat. When the first hour was up, I poured some of the simmering wine around but not over the pork belly. I want what little skin left on it to crisp up, which it won’t do if it’s soggy. Over the remaining two hours, I added more wine when it looked as though the liquid threatened to evaporate completely.

I did not lower the oven temperature again, as Ottolenghi calls for. The pork belly did just fine. After three hours, I removed it from the oven, let it rest about 10 minutes and then carved it into four thick slices, two of which went on a plate with some relish and a small lettuce salad lightly dressed with a lemon-shallot vinaigrette.

The flavors of the relish melded beautifully with the pork belly. The acidity of the vinaigrette sliced through the sweetness of the fat.

When I make this again…

I think I’ll try roasting it at 375 next time. Now that I’ve posted three recipes for pork belly, I suspect that if I prepare the pork belly according to Ottolenghi’s directions and follow Fergus Henderson’s roasting method, I’ll get the best of both. That is something I very much look forward to.

The NYT’s Braised Pork Belly

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.