Allow me to introduce you to the first fall recipe of 2018. Oh, I have been waiting for this moment.
Being that we are all in the "Back to School" frame of mind, let's learn something new together!!
So, you bought a pork belly. You saw it in the butchers case, with that irresistible fat cap and just could not go home without it.
You were high on almond butter and honey samples and had read enough Bon Appetite articles to feel like the female reincarnation of Dan Barber. You could cook ANYTHING!!
Now, you’re home.
It’s staring at you.
Where on earth do you begin?
I approached pork belly much like I approached roasting a duck for the first time. I knew that this was all about the fat, and that said fat would not become the unctuous, savory, crispy mouthful that I envisioned without proper handling.
While it may seem backwards, when approaching a hefty fat cap, one should always think about drying before they consider cooking.
By dehydrating the fat, in this case by way of salt and baking soda, we allow ourselves to crisp up the fat at roughly the same rate at which the meat will cook.
Still sound complicated?
Essentially, we want the fat to reach optimal crispness at the same time that the meat is done, thereby avoiding a perfect layer of fat atop a dry piece of meat or a soggy layer of fat atop a perfectly done piece of meat. Just like yoga and seesawing, it's all about balance.
After the drying process has been completed, the rest is pretty simple. A sweet and savory dry rub go on top and the rest is your oven's responsibility.
Now, we turn our crispy slab of fat into dinner.
Sweet pears and crispy pork belly meet with a tangy apple cider vinaigrette to create one of the best bites you will ever take. I will go out on a limb here and dub this the best lettuce wrap you will ever taste.
It is everything. Sweet, savory, crunchy, and all around the perfect fall bite.
Just look at us being so impressive. I am proud of us.
PORK BELLY & PEAR LETTUCE WRAPS
APPLE CIDER VINAIGRETTE
prep and techniques adapted from Bon Appetite Magazine
- 1 lb pork belly
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
Prepare the pork belly by dotting the thick, top layer of fat (fat cap) with hundreds of tiny holes, being sure to not puncture the actual meat. You can use the tip of a paring knife or a very thin, metal skewer to do this.
In a small bowl, combine baking soda and kosher salt. Lay the pork belly, fat-side-up, on a lined sheet pan and coat with the baking soda mixture. Discard any leftover mixture.
Allow the pork belly to sit and dry at room temperature for 6 hours, then transfer to an empty shelf in the refrigerator and refrigerate overnight.
Cook's Note: An empty shelf isn't always easy to find, but it is an important step in kitchen safety. This protects any other food in your fridge from being contaminated by the raw pork.
The next day, rinse the pork belly very thoroughly under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
Cook’s Note: An easy way to ensure that you have rinsed away all the baking soda is to pour a bit of vinegar over the skin. If you see it bubble up at all, you know that there is still some residual baking soda and you will need to rinse it again.
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 teaspoons Chinese five spice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, forming a paste.
Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a cooling rack on top.
Smear the prepared paste over the fat cap of the pork belly and slice into strips about 1 1/2-inch wide.
Lay the strips, fat-side-up on the cooling rack and bake for 45-50 minutes. The skin should be deeply colored and very crisp.
Increase oven temperature to 500 degrees F and bake for an additional 5 minutes.
Allow to cool while you prepare the vinaigrette.
APPLE CIDER VINAIGRETTE
- 1 cup apple cider
- 1 medium shallot, finely diced
- 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon whole grain mustard
Pour apple cider in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the cider has reduced to 1/2 cup. Allow to cool until just warm.
Pour the reduced cider into a jar and mix in diced shallot, vinegar, soy sauce, and mustard. Shake until well combined.
FILLING & ASSEMBLY
- prepared pork belly, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 2 medium ripe pears, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
- sea salt
- 1 large head butter lettuce, rinsed, dried, and leaves removed from stem
Place pork belly and pears in a large, nonstick skillet and set over medium high heat. Sprinkle with Chinese five spice and cook for 3-5 minutes; until the pork belly is crisp and the pears are golden.
Drizzle in honey and sea salt and cook one minute more. Remove from heat.
Serve the pork and pear mixture in butter lettuce leaves and drizzle with the prepared vinaigrette.
Serve immediately. Enjoy!