Thursday, March 18, 2010

Braised Pork Belly With Soft Polenta

Oh, the decadence!  Oh, the layers of fat and meat and more fat!  Oh, heavenly belly of pork!  

Alright, so maybe I'm not much of a poet, but if anything in the culinary universe inspires one to burst into spontaneous iambic pentameter or even just haiku, it's pork belly.  Yes, this is the cut of meat that is cured into bacon, which is how most Americans know pork belly.  Fresh pork belly, long popular in Asia and other regions of the world, hadn't made much of a dent on America's palate until recently.  David Chang of NYC noodle bar Momofuku who is famous in part for his pork belly buns even admits that a decade ago, he couldn't have called them "pork belly" and expected to sell them (by the way, I love the Momofuku cookbook and referred to it when constructing this dish).

Well, folks, that has all changed.  Bacon's popularity as a big culinary trend seems to have led people to discover pork belly itself.  Well, some people at least, like myself.  So, over the weekend, with visions of Animal's BBQ Pork Belly Sandwiches (see side picture) dancing through my head, I undertook my first attempt to braise the crap out of a fresh piece of pork belly.  Well, first I rubbed it with a mixture of salt, sugar, nutmeg and cardamom, wrapped it tightly and let it sit overnight.  Then, I braised the crap out of it in my brand new oven at 325 degrees for bordering on four hours.   During this time, I occasionally basted it in its own fat and braising juices.

Finally, after an excruciatingly long wait, I dished it up over a plateful of soft polenta.  Kuzak and I settled down before out plates and regarded our hunks of pork belly, nestled on their soft polenta pillows, topped with a piece of crispy sage.  "If it sucks, we can order pizza," I reassured him, knowing culinary experiments can go really well, or really poorly.  With that, we both tucked into our dishes and let out little noises of pleasure.  I'll sum it up this way.

Braised Pork Belly = A Little Piece Of Culinary Heaven

The luscious, velvety pork belly melted into the polenta, which it turns out is the perfect receptacle for pork belly juices.  This dish was an absolute winner, and I would make it again in a heartbeat (but not too often, if I'd like to avoid a heart attack).  And I even had two leftover chunks of braised pork belly.  No, I didn't give them to the Adorable Monster, though he did get to lick some plates.  Instead, I transformed them into pork belly ravioli the next night.   Now, that's a revelation.  Stay tuned for that recipe coming up next week!

Braised Pork Belly With Soft Polenta
Serves 4 people
Cooking time: 3-4 hours

1 pound fresh pork belly
1 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup tamari
1 cup water
1/2 cup polenta (grits)
2 cups filtered water
1/4 cup parmesan reggiano, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 pieces of sage
1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cardamom 


Mix together the rub ingredients and rub it all over the fresh pork belly.  Wrap tightly in plastic and allow to sit in the fridge for at least twelve hours but not longer than twenty-four hours (overnight).

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Remove the pork belly from the fridge and pat it dry.  Cut it into four pieces of equal size.  Next, heat the grapeseed oil in a braising pan over medium-high heat.  Quickly, sear the pork belly pieces on all sides until golden brown.  Add the chicken stock, tamari and water to the pan.  Cover tightly and place in the oven.  Braise the pork belly for about three to four hours, occasionally basting the pieces and making sure they stay moist.  If needed, more water can be added.

Once the pork belly has taken on a pillowy texture and is fork tender, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, add the 2 cups of filtered water, polenta (grits) and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt to a pot and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Cover and reduce to a simmer.  Cook for 5 minutes or until they reach desired consistency.  Stir in the parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Finally, fry the sage leaves in the olive oil over medium-high heat and allow to drain on a paper towel.

To plate, spoon the soft polenta onto a plate in a circle.  Top with a piece of braised pork belly and place a crispy sage leaf on top.  Enjoy!

Source For Ingredients
fresh pork belly, tamari, grapeseed oil, organic olive oil, organic sage, organic grits, organic nutmeg, organic cardamom, Kosher salt and organic chicken broth from Whole Foods

parmesan reggiano from Surfas

Wine Pairing
We paired a bottle of Carlisle 2007 Zinfandel, Carlisle Vinyard, Russian River Valley with the braised pork belly ($40 off the mailing list/SOLD OUT).  Robert Parker rated this wine 93 points.  It's not entirely Zinfandel, but rather a blend of 92% Zinfandel and the rest Carignan, Petite Sirah, and a few other Mediterranean red grapes.  The wine is a deep, purple color with hints of pepper and dark fruit on the palate, perfect to stand up to the very rich, braised pork belly. A truly great wine from a great producer!

Click here to visit the Carlisle's website

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