There aren’t words that adequately describe my affection for pork. Perhaps this will get the point across: I’d rather wake up to the smell of bacon frying than to a tall, dark and handsome man (who is not a complete stranger) lying naked in my bed. At least I know that the bacon will satisfy me. Thanks to the pig, we have wonderful things like salami, prosciutto and ham. As Homer Simpson once said, “the pig is a magical animal.” Ain’t it the truth. I have made a habit of finding ways to incorporate bacon into dishes that don’t require it. For instance, why not wrap a whole fish with a few slices of bacon or start a squash soup with a little swine? It’s too damn bad that our country doesn’t appreciate all of the pig’s precious parts. The foot, for instance, is a glorious flavoring agent that many still shy away from. The head, the cheeks, the perky little ears are all culinary delights and fixtures in French, Spanish and Latin American cuisines. Still, they are a bit too odd for our puritan culinary sensibilities. The focus here is the belly, which is wholly responsible for America’s favorite pork product: bacon. The belly is the whole slab of bacon. What makes this recipe particularly pleasing is a crisp outside and a soft and tender center, showing off the multi-layered bliss that is the pork belly.
Braised Pork Belly (serves six)
1 tablespoon canola oil
4-pound slab of pork belly
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, cleaned and diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cups chicken stock
4 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon cold butter
Preheat the oven to 350. In a large, heavy stock pot, heat oil over medium heat. Liberally salt and pepper the pork belly and score the fat. Sear, fat side down, until browned and crispy. Remove from pot and reserve. Pour off grease. Add carrots, onion, celery and garlic to the pot. Sprinkle salt over, cover and reduce heat to low. Sweat vegetables for ten minutes, or until they begin to brown. Add tomato paste and press in vegetables until evenly distributed. Let cook for one minute. Add the pork belly, fat side down, back into the pot along with the 4 cups chicken stock. Place the pot into the oven for 2 1/2 hours, or until meat is tender. Remove pork belly from pot and reserve. Strain braising liquid through a sieve and clean the stockpot for reuse. Pour the liquid back into the pot and add the pork belly, fat side down. Add the thyme. Over medium heat, let braising liquid thicken and the belly brown underneath. Slice in four pieces and then across the marbling, in bite-size pieces. Serve with roasted turnips and Brussels sprouts.