But about the cooking competition: this holiday, my sister and I chose pork belly as our cook-to-the-death ingredient, much to my husband's delight. Up to this point, I'd never cooked pork belly (which is basically a big slab of bacon before it's cured and cut). I went to the Asian market the Wednesday before the lake trip to get a small portion of pork belly to experiment on (again to my husband's delight). It was a total, epic disaster. I tried a couple of different variations of marinating it and scoring the skin and then proceeded to cook them all beyond recognition (poor husband was not so delighted). Charred crackling, anyone? So I was good and truly nervous. I sat down and looked through all my cookbooks, trying to find a different method of preparation. Sadly, all my favorite cookbooks let me down. Is everyone but me just born knowing how to cook a damn pork belly?!?
I was also thinking about the balance of the overall dish. Everyone likes a good mix of creamy, crunchy, sweet, salty, and acidic in a composed dish. I wandered out on Wednesday to water my silly garden while I was thinking this over, and then I spied several green heirloom tomatoes. Aha! I knew then that I wanted to do a fried green tomato, but with a kick.
But back to the pork belly. After Wednesday's abysmal failure, I had no clue what to do. Thursday rolled around, and it was time to get my groceries, get packed, and head to the lake. I still had no clue how to fix (don't laugh at my vernacular here) a good pork belly! The girl child and I went to Hirsch's Meat Market (a great local butcher shop near Parker and Alma in Plano, if you're a Dallas-ite), along with every other person in DFW who was looking to stock up on meat for the holiday. However, while I stood around for half an hour, waiting for my number to be called, I saw it! The perfect glaze (confirmed by the gentleman in front of me who purchased 25 pounds of ribs, three pounds of liver, and six pounds of tongue. I decided he was a legit source).
To really appreciate the final product, you had to get a bite with potatoes, pork belly, and tomato all together. It actually worked out really well, much my shock.
My fabulous competitor, my sister, made pulled pork belly tacos (with an agave nectar glaze) served with grilled pineapple and poblano peppers. YUM! Her dish was way prettier than mine.
Recipes follow the break here...
- 2-4 green heirloom tomatoes, sliced thickly
- 2 cups filtered water
- 2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup rice wine (optional; you could also sub in cooking sherry)
- 1 1/2 T sea salt
- 1 1/2-2 cups brown sugar (taste as it dissolves until you get the brine to your desired sweetness)
- 5-7 whole peppercorns
- 1 T mustard seeds
- 1 T fennel seeds
- 1 t red pepper flakes
- 1 t cayenne pepper
- 4 T ghee (clarified butter) for frying
- 3 T flour (for initial coating)
- 1 cup milk
- 3 T. flour (to mix with corn meal and breadcrumbs for second coating)
- 3 T. corn meal
- 4 T. Italian seasoned breadcrumbs (I buy the Progresso brand, but if I have a lot of time and I'm feeling really industrious, I will toast several pieces of bread and run them through the food processor with salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme, lots of garlic powder, and garlic flakes)
When you're ready to fry the tomatoes, drain them and set aside. Set up three bowls or deepish plates--one for just flour, one for the milk, an one for the rest of the frying ingredients (except the butter). Put the butter in a cast-iron skillet. Start dredging your tomatoes. First in flour, then in milk, and then in the final mixture. The initial coating of flour makes the rest stick better. Get your skillet to just a little more than medium heat. Fry until golden brown on both sides (you want to fry them faster rather than slower so your tomatoes remain firm rather than mushy).
- 5 lb pork belly slab (This will make about nine good servings.)
- Salt and pepper for seasoning
- One quart chicken or veggie stock
- handful of fresh thyme
- handful of fresh rosemary
- Glaze (like the one pictured above, or make your own!)
n the oven.
First, heat a giant pan to med-high heat. Season your pork belly and puncture the skin several times (just through to the fat--not all the way to the meat). Lay the pork belly into your heated skillet skin side down. Let it sear to a deep golden brown. Heat the broth and herbs while you're searing. Put both (make sure the pork belly is skin side up) into the oven-safe pan with the lid on it and put it in 325 degree oven for an hour. At an hour, check it with a fork to see if the fat and meat are both tender. If yes, put a layer of glaze on and either go sear the skin side on a hot grill or under the broiler. If no, keep cooking and checking every twenty minutes. After you've crisped up the skin on the grill or under the broiler, add another layer of glaze and let it rest. Cut into squares and serve.
- 4-5 baking potatoes
- 4 T butter
- 1 T sea salt
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1/2 grated or chopped cheddar cheese