I just tried this pork belly dish out last night; it was inspired by a similar dish from Alinea. Tasting this dish is like hearing Jimi Hendrix for the first time. And not that “Cross Town Traffic” junk, I’m talking “Voodoo Child”. Here’s how it breaks down:
This is a chipotle and brown sugar cured pork belly, topped with pickled vegetables, enrobed in barbecue spiced caramel. Giddyup.
I purchased the pork belly from Grateful Growers in Denver, North Carolina. They have a breed of hog called Tamworth that has worked really well for us. It has phenomenal flavor and it’s great knowing where our product is coming from, what’s been injected into it (or what hasn’t), what it has eaten and who raised it.
I used a dry cure for the pork belly which consisted of kosher salt, dark brown sugar, ground chipotle, smoked paprika, onion powder, granulated garlic and dried thyme. After I liberally packed the cure onto the belly I let it sit for twenty four hours. I didn’t let it go any longer than that because I wanted the pork to be very subtle, I didn’t want to risk letting it get salty.
When I took the belly out of the refrigerator the next day, I rinsed the cure off and patted it dry with a towel. One thing that I’ve found about working with pork belly is that if you’re going to remove the skin then it’s best to do it after you’ve cured and cooked the meat. At that point it will come off with minimal assistance from a flexible filet knife. At this point I portioned the pork into about 1.5”x1.5” cubes for a proper hors d’oeuvre. For an appetizer for a separate dinner I made 3”x3” portions.
For the pickled vegetables I used carrots and cucumbers. I used a parisienne scoop to pull small rounds out of the vegetables…the scoop worked perfectly as it left one flat end that helps keep it in place on top of the pork. I made a brine of equal parts granulated white sugar, white wine vinegar and water, then steeped it with pickling spices (cinnamon, mustard seed, bay leaves, allspice, dill seed, cloves, ginger, peppercorns, coriander, juniper berries, mace, and cardamom), sliced shallot and smashed garlic in a sachet. Make sure to always have your aromatics in a sachet, otherwise you’ll be picking them out of whatever you are poaching or pickling.
When I had the brine at a boil I added the carrots for just about a minute and turned the heat off. I let them go for about a minute, then added the cucumbers. I let them sit in the hot brine for about thirty minutes, then strained them off into a container. After chilling the brine back down I added some brine to the container they were stored in. I didn’t want to fully cook the carrots, but rather leave them a little under cooked for the texture.
I let the vegetables sit overnight in the brine, then drained them the next day. At that point I placed a couple carrots and a couple cucumbers balls on top of each of the pork belly bites.
The next step is the sugar. For the spice I used ground chipotle, ancho, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and dry thyme. This time I used sugar for the caramel, but the next time I’ll use isomalt instead of sugar because it is less sweet, not as quick to crystallize and doesn’t absorb as much moisture as granulated sugar. Trying to use caramel in the summer in the South is not always an easy task.
Before serving I reheated the pork belly (vegetables and all) in a low oven, then shattered the caramel and placed shards on top of the pork. When you put it back in the oven the sugar will melt and enrobe the cube of pork belly.
What you end up with is the flavor of the South on the end of a fork: Braised pork belly, spice and pickled vegetables.