I adore simple pleasures. They are the last refuge of the complex.
~Oscar Wilde

El camión.  Once she learned where the chicharrónes truck was to be found daily in the República Dominicana (DR), life became even better.  Freshly showered again, she would stealthily slip out the door to begin her quest each late afternoon, seeking the truck on foot angling for the smiling guy, perhaps even furtively. Then, that small, greasy box of heaven came home oh, so slyly for the first couple of times. She presented the rectangular, styrofoam carton somewhat self-consciously obsequious yet openly epicurean, but not coquettish. A sublime surfeit for me.

Each day in the late afternoon a similar ritual happened, almost zen-like, even if the truck were parked in a dissimilar place which likely made her search even more fetching.  I awaited, her unknowing (or so she thought) yet sort of low-keyed giddy.

Chicharrónes  first became an app and then later almost an entrée, but were an ever blissful repast — especially with a local rum & tonic or a beer and bare feet in the sand.

Chicharrónes are ubiquitous throughout southern Spain (Andalusia), Latin America, South America, the Caribbean, Mesoamerica, Guam, the Philippines. Recipes vary markedly amongst cultures and kitchens, so much like other cuisines.

CHICHARRONES DE CERDO (DOMINICAN PORK CRACKLINGS)

4 lb pork belly, thickly sliced
4 qts cold water
1 T sea salt

2 t dried oregano
2 t dried thyme
2 t cumin seeds, seared briefly and ground
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 C orange juice

1/2 C canola oil

Salsa verde + salsa roja
Crema
6 lime wedges

Make slits throughout pork belly slices at about 2″ intervals, but do not cut through. Allow the pork, water and sea salt to immerse, marinate for a few hours. In a heavy, Dutch oven mix pork belly, water, salt, oregano, pepper and orange juice. Cook over medium heat until the water has been absorbed and evaporated, but there will be pork oil left behind.  Be aware of the spatter.

Add canola oil and fry until the meat has turned a dark golden brown hue and the skin is crispy.

Remove the meat and place on paper towels, let the pork belly drain and cool to room temperature. Cut into smaller pieces, about 3″ and, at the time of serving, garnish lightly with dollops of salsa verde & roja, crema, and then lime wedges.

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If I had to narrow my choice of meats down to one for the rest of my life, I am quite certain that meat would be pork.
~ James Beard

Pork (n.)circa 1300 (early 13th century in the surname Porkuiller) “flesh of a pig as food,” from the Old French porc “pig, swine, boar,” and directly from the Latin porcus “pig, tame swine,” from the Proto-Indo-European porko- “young swine.”

Homespun charcuterie that warms the cockles.

Akin to more cultured pâtés, rillettes are often made with pork, goose, duck, chicken, game birds, rabbit and even some species of fish such as anchovies, tuna, trout and salmon. Throughout France, there are some slightly varying regional renditions with some suave, silky and smooth while others are more rustic, coarse and textual each with differing spice and herb blends. Originally a peasant dish, rillettes are essentially a potted meat either braised or cooked as confit, that is poached slowly in fat and seasonings and morphed into a more or less lisse end product. If this helps at all, confiture de cochon (“pig jam”) is what the French have affectionately dubbed rillettes de porc. Literally translated into English, rillettes means “planks,” and these unctuous delights tend to keep well chilled in the fridge well before they walk one.

Although I hesitated to mention that rillettes make exquisite holiday gifts, wedding finger fare for non-vegans and the religiously lenient or as amuse-bouche or amuse-gueule — Martha would no doubt be pleased.

PORK RILLETTES

1 t allspice berries
1 t coriander seeds
1/2 t mustard seeds

1 lb. freshly cut pork belly, skin discarded
1 lb. freshly cut boneless pork shoulder, skin discarded

1/2 t ground black pepper
2 t sea salt
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 dried bay leaves
3 thyme and 3 parsley sprigs, tied into a bundle
1 C dry white wine

1/2 C cold water
1/2 C chicken stock

2 T pork or duck fat, to top

Heat the allspice berries, coriander and mustard seeds in a medium heavy skillet over low medium heat, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally, until they become aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Allow to cool, and then coarsely grind in a spice grinder or coffee mill devoted to the task. Transfer to a small glass bowl and set aside.

Coarsely dice both the pork belly and shoulder and place in a heavy pot, making sure the mix reaches room temperature. Add allspice, coriander, mustard, pepper, salt, garlic, thyme and parsley bundle, and the bay leaves. Mix well and pour in the wine. Bring to a boil, reduce to a very slow simmer and cook, skimming any foam, for 30 minutes. Add the water and stock, return to a slow simmer, cover and cook for 3-4 hours, stirring only a few times, until the meat is fall-apart tender.

Uncover and increase heat to medium. Cook 20-30 minutes more until any liquid is pure fat, not water. Look at a spoonful of the liquid, making sure that the little water bubbles have evaporated. Taste the fat and adjust the seasonings to your preference. Set aside to cool some, then remove and discard thyme, parsley and bay leaves.

Mash and shred the mixture, using your fingers and/or forks. Alternatively, add the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on low speed until smooth. Transfer to a ceramic crock, terrine, or glass jar with a lid that clamps tight, pressing down so there are no air bubbles. Put the rillettes into the container of choice and press down with the back of a spoon to remove any air pockets.

Melt the pork or duck fat in a small pan and pour a slight amount (about 1/4″ thick) over the tamped down rillettes. The fat should be set before serving. Gently place sheets of plastic wrap against the surface of the meat to remove any air.

Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, preferably overnight. Remove from refrigerator some 20 minutes before slathering on toast points or crusty baguette slices with cornichons, pickled red onions, and champagne or a Loire Valley white wine as sides.

No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.
~Mahatma Gandhi

Buta no kakuni (braised pork belly) is most often associated with the southern Japanese island of Kyūshū, and in particular, the Nagasaki prefecture. The dish was reportedly adapted from a similar Chinese dish, called tonporo in Japan, that was introduced through the port of Nagasaki during isolationist times.

Formerly a secluded fishing village, Nagasaki’s first touch with the West was in the mid 16th century when a Portugese ship landed on nearby Tanegashima island. At the time, Japan was strife-ridden with potent feudal lords vying for supremacy, and the Portuguese possessed that equalizer in their ships’ hulls—firearms. So, Japanese provincial leaders, the daimyo, eagerly began regular trade with the Portuguese and even opened intercourse with mainland China with whom Japan had severed ties earlier.

A half century later, the Dutch expeditionary ship Liefde which was manned by a couple dozen starving sailors, arrived in Kyūshū. The Dutch captain somehow managed to win the confidence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Japanese unifier who had championed cultural seclusion and had just banned Christianity about a decade earlier. The Portuguese soon became unwelcome. Fearing colonization, the Japanese first persecuted, and then completely expelled all Portuguese diplomats, clerics, traders and their families. Enter the Dutch.

After Tokugawa’s death, shogun ordered the construction of the artificial, tiny island of Dejima (“exit island”) in Nagasaki Harbor. This mock isle became Japan’s single port and sole window onto the West yet was designed to keep that nether world at bay. A venue for lively cross-cultural merchant trade, the borders between propriety and pleasure on Dejima became blurred…a bizarre birth of trade relations between Japan and the Dutch East India Company that would endure for centuries.

Chinese ships first entered the port in the late 16th century and soon established trade routes there. Dutch and Chinese traders were the only foreigners permitted to enter Japan for over two hundred years, from 1639 to 1854. But, they were confined to certain ethnic enclaves: the Dutch to Dejima, the Chinese to the Tōjin-yashiki (“Chinese residence”). By the early 1700s, Nagasaki was welcoming hundreds of Chinese ships annually, and a notable portion of the population were from China. The influence of Chinese food culture on Japan, especially via the southern port city of Nagasaki, is palpable. In short, Nagasaki quietly boasts a singular Japanese cuisine that has benefited from Chinese, Dutch, and Portuguese imprints. A paradox in a time of isolation.

Bona fide buta no kakuni? An authentic version? A genuine rendition? Faithful to the original? Perhaps not entirely. But, this is a close adaptation with some poetic license. As has been remarked earlier, fusion cuisine is far from a novel concept.

BRAISED JAPANESE PORK BELLY (BUTA NO KAKUNI)

1/2 T canola oil
2 1/2 lbs, uncured, center cut pork belly (without skin)

4 C water
1/2 C sake
1 T mirin
2″ piece fresh ginger, halved and smashed

3 C cold water
1 1/2 C shoyu
1 C sugar
2 star anise
6 black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks
2″ piece fresh ginger, halved and smashed

Steamed Chinese Buns (mantou)
Eggs, boiled, peeled and halved
Scallions, cut into 2″ lengths then lengthwise into thin strips
Daikon radish, peeled and thinly sliced
Sriracha
Hoisin

Sear
Heat the canola oil in a large, heavy skillet over high heat until it shimmers and is before smoking. Add the pork belly, fat side down until golden, about 2 minutes. Turn and sear evenly on the other three sides. Do not allow the pan to smoke. Transfer the seared belly to a platter or sided sheet pan.

Braises
In a heavy Dutch oven or pot, combine the pork belly, water, sake, mirin, and ginger. Bring to just a boil over high heat, uncovered, then reduce heat and lower to a simmer, cooking for 1 hour. Transfer to a platter or sided sheet pan, then discard the liquid and clean the pot.

Next, place the water, shoyu, sugar, star anise, peppercorns, cinnamon stick and ginger into the same Dutch oven. Add the pork belly, and again just bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer. Cover and cook gently until the pork belly is quite tender and succulent, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove the pork belly, transfer to a cutting board and allow to rest. Meanwhile, remove and discard the star anise, peppercorns, cinnamon stick and ginger with a slotted spoon and discard. Reserve the braising liquid.

Press
Transfer braised pork belly to a deep baking dish. Pour enough of the braising liquid into the dish to just cover the belly. Top with a smaller baking dish and weigh down with small dumb bells, cans or bricks. Place in the fridge overnight. Once pressed, remove from dish and skim off and discard any fat that may have gelled on the surface.

Finish
Preheat oven to 400 F. Put the belly, fat side down in an ovenproof saute pan and add enough braising liquid to reach about 1/4″ up the sides. Cook in the oven, basting occasionally, until just heated through, about 15 minutes. Turn the meat over, and roast another 5 minutes, basting more often this time, until the belly is richly browned and glazed. Transfer to a cutting board and allow to rest some, then carve belly into cubes or slices depending on your needs.

Pour any remaining braising liquid into a heavy saucepan, bring to a simmer, and reduce to the consistency of a thinner sauce. (If boiled eggs are visiting your table, ladle some braise over the open halves in a bowl before reducing.)

Serve with whatever whets your appetite: steamed rice, Chinese buns, boiled eggs, scallions, daikon radish, cilantro, chiles, Sriacha, Hoisin Karashi (Japanese mustard), and, of course, the reduced braising sauce.

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.