Pork Belly: Braised Bacon, Crispy Pork Skins

Recently we’ve been working with uncured pork belly in the kitchen a little more than usual, with some great results.
I start with cutting the pork belly down into several manageable pieces, then carefully remove the skin from the pork belly.  I try to leave as much fat as possible on the belly, since that means there will be less to remove later from the skin and the fat is where a lot of the flavor is when you braise the belly.
I use the skin to make fried pork skins for our fine dining room’s Butcher Board.  The pork skins are boiled for two hours, then any remaining fat is removed from the skin.  At this point the skin can be cut down into small strips, depending on the size that is desired of the finished product.  Then the pork skin is placed into a dehydrator overnight, and will be very hard the next morning.  The dehydrated skin can then be held for service, I usually just keep it in the freezer.  The skin can be fried at 350 degrees until it completely puffs up and finishes bubbling, usually about three minutes.  I season the pork skins with Southwest seasoning and kosher salt.
Crispy pork skins, pictured on the Antipasti Plate
For the braised pork belly I begin by producing bacon, which is an eight day process.  A dry cure is applied to the pork belly, which consists of 45 grams of kosher salt, 22 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of pink salt.  This cure recipe is taken from “Charcuterie” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.  The belly can sit, covered, in the refrigerator for seven days with the cure on it.  The belly should then be rinsed and sit uncovered in the refrigerator overnight so a pellicle can form.  The pellicle is the tacky surface that forms on the outside of a product that allows it to better absorb the flavor of smoke.  The next morning the pork belly is hot smoked with hickory at 150 degrees for about one hour.  Make sure to keep an eye on the bacon so it doesn’t get too dark… manage the smoke carefully and move the product as necessary so no areas will get over-smoked and have a bitter flavor.
Now that the belly has been cured, dried and smoked, it is officially bacon.  From here, I braise the bacon at 300 degrees for five hours in chicken stock with onions, celery, carrots, thyme and rosemary.  Cover the bacon no more than two-thirds of the way so the fat cap remains untouched by the braising liquid.
Once braised, the slab of braised bacon needs to be chilled before portioning.  To re-heat, it can be seared on the range to crisp the fat cap and then finished in the oven.  I’ve also had great results from deep frying the belly to order, which crisps the outside really well.  If using the deep fryer, make sure not to over-fry the bacon, which would dry it out.


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