Pork & Belly Laughter

September 14, 2011

I am unsure where my mother or her brother learned their laughter. There must be some inherent or learned skill to the art of belly chuckles. Genes +/- environment? In any event, my uncle was a gifted raconteur, a deft joke teller, and my mother not. This is not to say she was no storyteller. But, over the years she raptly listened to her brother spin yarns and laughed. They both must have known that those deep down, deceptively hearty, mind theoried, endorphin releasing, primal muscular exertions and sometimes hearty howls produced quiet good to all. Their lustful laughter, which begat laughter, forgave pain, soothed. It eased like a contagious opiate.

In ancient days, Plato and Aristotle addressed the power of laughter to undermine authority. Even recently, researchers at Oxford University subjected people to painful stimuli both before and after exposing them to comedic episodes. Laughter led to higher pain tolerance. The actual laughter alone, not just the positive emotions, elicited pain relief.

This divine, yet nearly lewd, pork belly is no joke. How to tease it out remains—smoking, roasting, dry rubbing, braising?

BRAISED PORK BELLY

1/2 C honey
4 bay leaves
3 rosemary sprigs
4 thyme sprigs
4 flat leaf parsley sprigs
8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 C black peppercorns
1/4 C red peppercorns
1 C sea salt
8 C water

1 (3 lb) pork belly, not cured

Combine all of the brining ingredients (above) in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Heat for a couple of minutes, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and be sure cool before using.

Cover the belly with the brine and refrigerate for 8-10 hours. Remove the pork belly from the brine, discarding the liquid. Rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

Extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 ribs celery, sliced
1/2 fennel bulb, roughly chopped
1/2 turnip, roughly chopped
1 parsnip, roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, smashed and finely chopped
Pinch red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt

1 C dry white wine
1/4 C Dijon mustard
3+ C chicken stock
3 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 325 F

Liberally coat a large, heavy Dutch oven with olive oil and place over medium high heat. Add the onion, celery, fennel, turnip, parsnip, carrot, and garlic. Season with red pepper, black pepper and salt, to taste. Cook the vegetables until they soften and become aromatic, about 8-10 minutes. Add the wine and cook for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the mustard and chicken stock. Add the pork belly and toss in the thyme and bay leaves. Cover and braise the belly until tender and succulent, about 5-6 hours. If necessary, add more stock and wine while cooking to retain the liquid level.

Remove from the oven and set the oven to broil. Once preheated, transfer the belly to a baking pan and broil until it turns golden, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, strain the vegetables and discard the herbs. Reduce the braising liquid over medium high heat. Transfer the pork to a cutting board, allow to rest for several minutes, carve and serve.

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