Variations on a Theme of Pork Belly

Many restaurants serve some variation of pork belly, but it has become a bit passé at “finer” restaurants as more and more chefs seem to embrace its superb qualities :

  • Pork belly is cheap;
  • Pork belly is receptive to almost any variation of ingredients and spices;
  • Pork belly is a substantial and rich main course;
  • Red cabbage, grits or any hearty side course works great;
  • I always invite a few vegetarians over to let them know what they are missing.  It also guarantees  that I will get a second serving (Oink, Oink).

Pork BellyPersonally, I prefer Jaime Oliver’s delightful “Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Braised Fennel” featured almost two years ago on Gourmay.    To me, it reminds me of a sublime porchetta that was served at most roadside kiosks in Umbria and Tuscany.

In any event, we discovered some “meaty” pork bellies at Whole Foods recently and Thérèse decided to experiment by combining two recipes from Jamie Oliver’s Pork Belly Roast and a Three-hour Pork Belly Roast by Good Foods.

Found below is the Thérèse improvisation:

Variation on a Theme of Pork Belly

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbs fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp of black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp of sea salt
  • 2 to 3 lbs of pork belly
  • 2 or 3 carrots (cut in 2″ strips)
  • 2 or 3 stalks of celery (cut in 2″ strips)
  • 1 large white onion quartered
  • 4 large unpeeled garlic cloves
  • leaves of 5 or 6 stalks of fresh thyme
  • 2 Tbs of olive oil
  • Bottle of dry white wine
  • 1 Tbs or a bit more of all purpose flour

Preparation

  1. Toast fennel seeds and black peppercorns in a skillet until the fennel seeds begin to give off their delightful aroma.  Place them into a mortar bowl, add salt and grind until the seeds are smashed.
  2. Pat the mixture onto the top (fatty side) of the pork belly (score if you are looking for a crispy top).  We do this about 2 hours before cooking.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 500ºF
  4. Add chopped carrots, celery, onion and unpeeled onion to a baking pan.  Strip the leaves of the thyme over the vegetables.  Place the pork belly strips on top of the vegetables and add a bit of oil to avoid having the veggies stick to the bottom.
  5. Bake the pork belly until the skin begins to bubble (12 to 15 minutes) and then turn down to 325º and cook for another hour and a half or so.
  6. Add half a bottle of white white and cook for another hour or so until the vegetables and pork belly are thoroughly cooked.
  7. Remove the pan from from oven.  Place pork belly on a cutting board and allow to settle (about 10 minutes).  Slice across the grain in portions about an inch wide.
  8. If needed, pour off any excess fat from the vegetables in the pan.  Sprinkle a Tbs of flour over the vegetable mixtures and mash into a puree.  Add a bit more white wine for consistency.

Serve the veggies and pork belly immediately.  We served together with red cabbage which added a nice balance.

(Editor’s Note:   Jaime’s slow roasted pork belly with braised fennel is far richer.  Thérèse seems to think this recipe is a bit lighter and more appetizing, although I would have preferred some more fennel).  Enjoy.

Rediscovering Coleslaw

Most people with any sense of taste will generally give coleslaw a pass. Sure, it works well to wet the pulled pork sandwich, but generally this mayonnaise-laden side-dish adds color but very little flavor in fast food chains.  Thankfully, Thérèse has never succumbed to the temptation to subject luscious fresh vegetables to a coating of factory-processed mayo.

While Thérèse is not afraid to experiment, her coleslaw recipe has been remarkably consistent over the last twenty years.  The “secret” recipe dates back 50 years+ and is actually an amalgamation of her Grandmother’s “Fred Harvey’s Railroad Slaw” and her own food experiments at VEPCO (“Virginia Electric Power Company”).  The basic difference is that Fred Harvey’s recipe calls for twice as much oil as vinegar.  Thérèse recommends equal portions.  This recipe  which serves 8 and easily lasts up to 5 days if refrigerated.

Variations on Fred Harvey’s Railroad Coleslaw

Ingedients

4 cups of shredded cabbage
2-4 Tbs minced onion
1-2 carrots shredded
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp salt
1 tsp celery seed
1 Tbs sugar
1/2 cup of white vinegar
1/2 cup of oil

Preparation

  • Toss cabbage, onion and carrots
  • In saucepan, combine other ingredients and bring to a boil.
  • Pour over cabbage mixture and chill 4 to 6 hours.

Sure, it’s simple but far better than the mayo-processed variety.