The Donald + Pig Ears

December 10, 2015

Perhaps the less we have the more we are required to brag.
~John Steinbeck

I have long delayed comments on The Donald, but this diatribe simply cannot wait further. No need to tweet here.  Humanity needs to arise despite his fatuous, dégoûtant, and vulgar presence.

The Donald’s paranoid xenophobia, his ethnic disparagement, his irrational bigotry, his racist rants, his limitless enmity (all the while saying he loves thee and everyone adores him — not!), his bellicose behavior, his shameless histrionic comments, his ideological dearth of reality, his lamentable fascism, his endless marination of misogyny, his open fat-shaming assaults, his admitted sexual assaults, his fearful contemptuous demagoguery, his utter lack of policies, his sightless reversal of courses (and blatant lies, deceit), his trash talking bullying and invectives, his lack of simple humility, his nonpologies of grabbing women’s genitals, his unmitigated narcissism is truly extreme, really hyperbolic.  Just insulting, crude, undignified, and dour — not befitting of anyone holding the office of the Presidency of the United States.

And to even think that he has serious supporters, even mild or occasional adherents? Do some even pretend to truly want a hubristic, unfit carnival barker to govern as president?  He is a slipshod celeb, a deplorable clown, not someone who should hold any civic or constitutional office. His relentless vitriol on Twitter is flatly embarrassing. It is that a pure combination of arrogance and ignorance?

The Donald is a revulsive fool who loves feckless fear, antagonistic acrimony, speaks to irrationality, and above all is addicted to his own popularity. You should be ashamed, collaborators, each of you that gives one whit about the democratic process, are often sadly uneducated, lack historical context and take the Donald as a serious candidate. The Donald is a brutish, bulling Duck who waddles aimlessly and loves hearing himself quack. He bespeaks an “empathetic and historical loser.”

Actually, I hope and pray that imperious red + gray combover will carry the Republican nomination and lose woefully, much later, and then a lady will finally inherit the White House — one who is more wisely oriented towards negotiation, not fevered prejudice, saber rattling or war. A loose, inhumane cannon. Condemn the Donald and do not elect him unless you crave for the world to implode. You know precisely who he is…

Perhaps, The Donald’s fear or scorn of African Americans, Mexicans, Latinos, women, the disabled soldiers’ parents, Vietnam vets, sexual harassment victims and Muslims is based upon his silly dismay or confusion or fond reminiscence of his own German (or is it Swedish now?) immigrant heritage. Maybe, it is simply their skin, sex and hair color which differs vastly from The Donald’s.  Who knows what goes on under that desperate reddish-orangish rag and clown fish mouth that spews hatred, countenances violence, spreads petulance and irascibility?

Now, some fellow Republicans have finally noted his small hands (he does appear to have openly splayed smaller digits) which often leads to a minute member regardless of how far he can purportedly drive a golf ball, but he never said he could catch and shoot…but, it all seems far from bizarre where has this has all gone, or perhaps others who support him have the same afflictions?  Sorry for you.  As baffling as this lurid “locker room talk” seems, we should be seriously debating presidential policies.  Then again, perhaps the Donald wants to unravel the GOP.

Of course, he has very few, if any, stated political agendas.  Now, he has demonstrated a thirst and penchant for violence against others, including his opponent and any protesters and has spoken definitely on air about his lewdness, immorality, crudeness and indecency. It is time to awaken, folks. “Mark my words, believe me.”

As Seneca the Younger once remarked, “people take pleasure in giving power to the indecent,” some two millenia before John Steinbeck or even Uncle Joe Stalin, P.T. Barnum, Il Duce, Robert Mugabe, or other authoritarian regimes, and certainly the Donald.

It was not just words, Donald — and I hope everyone knows that.

Now, onto something much more soothing.

PIG EARS

Pig ears, a few (local and high quality)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 or 5 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 T dried thyme
2-3 thyme sprigs
1 T coriander seeds
Grating of nutmeg

2-3 C chicken stock and cold water
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced thinly
2 bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mixed greens + vinaigrette or artisanal noodles with a tab of butter

Pig ears should be procured from a local farmer. Look for fresh clean smooth ears without marring or stains, and if bristles still exist, singe or shave them.

Marinate them an evening ahead. A healthy dose of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, minced garlic cloves, dried thyme and a sprig or two of thyme leaves, coriander seeds, and a dash of nutmeg.

Cook them in stock, rinse, and then cover with stock and water. Add sliced carrots, sliced and peeled onions, bay leaves and sea salt with black pepper. Bring to a simmer, then put the heavy pot in a low oven, below 200 F for some 10 hours, or until you can easily pinch thumb and finger through them and feel little resistance. Allow the ears to cool completely.

Now, the finish which should be crispy.

In a 450 F oven, roast the pig ears, so as to avoid the spatter of frying them. Put them between pieces of parchment or waxed paper, and weigh them down with another sheet pan, and cook until just slightly brittle, about 15 minutes and slice.

Then, serve them over mixed greens + vinaigrette or artisan noodles with a tab of butter and freshly ground black pepper.

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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.

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.

When a match has equal partners, then I fear not.
~Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

Why have pork and cabbage always dated so swimmingly? What or who has wed this enduring union? No matter where the sod — Chinese, French, Japanese, German, Nicaraguan, Slavic, Mexican, Russian, Fillipino, Italian, Malaysian, Salvadoran, Scandavanian, Korean, Spanish and so many more — cuisines have embraced this classic, balanced pair. Perhaps at first shrouded, this later less timorous, now nearly brazen, affair between swine and this leafy green has unfolded. While they both comprehend and consent to the polyamorous nature of their bond, both free to rendezvous and nestle with others elsewhere, they are such the match when coupled.

Cabbage is a biennial, dicotyledonous flowering plant from the family Brassicaceae (or Cruciferae), related to related to kale, broccoli, collards and Brussels sprouts. It is distinguished by a short stem upon which is crowded a mass of leaves. The cultivated cabbage is derived from a leafy plant called the wild mustard plant, native to littoral regions in the Mediterranean. Others claim that that wild cabbage was first brought to Europe around 600 BCE by Celtic wanderers. The elder half, pigs were domesticated as early as 13,000 BCE in the Tigris River basin…quite the age discrepancy for a couple these days.

Pork and cabbage have natural affinities for one another. The tart, crisp cabbage accentuates the succulent, rich pork allowing the flavors to mingle and mellow. Then, on the back end the pork juices permeate the hearty cabbage until a like harmony is reached. A sort of magical choir of food between the two.

Some have even asserted that the couple just aims to seek neutrality on the plate as cabbage is somewhat alkaline (pH 7.5), while pork is more acidic (pH 5.5). Sort of a Jack Sprat, opposites attract thing. Sounds a touch numerical for a loving pair, but who ever knows what makes things click? It does seem ironic, though, that “cabbage” is slang for a fool or simpleton while pigs are considered so savvy, clever.

PORK LOIN ROAST & CABBAGE

5 lb pork loin roast, bone in, brined

Freshly ground black pepper
1 T carraway seeds, toasted
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T duck fat

Brine
8 C cold water
1 C sea salt
1 C raw sugar
1 C chicken stock
1/4 C apple cider vinegar

6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
1 T black peppercorns
1 T multi-hued peppercorns (red, white, green)
1 T mustard seeds, toasted
1 T carraway seeds, toasted
2 bay leaves
4 full thyme sprigs
4 sage leaves
4 rosemary sprigs

Cabbage Mix
1 head green cabbage, halved, cored and sliced
1 fennel bulb, cored, peeled and sliced
1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
2 fresno chile peppers, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 jalapeno chile peppers, stemmed and thinly sliced
2 T caraway seeds, toasted
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Juice of 4 oranges

1-2 C chicken stock

1 whole garlic clove, sliced transversely

Finish
3 T Dijon mustard
2 T apple cider vinegar
2-3 C dry Riesling or Pinot Gris, preferably Alsatian

Orange zest
Cilantro leaves

Toast mustard and carraway seeds in a small heavy skillet until just fragrant. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Combine all brine ingredients in a large deep pot. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to make sure the salt, sugar and liquids are thoroughly mixed. Pour into a large bowl or deep pan and allow to cool completely. Once the brine is fully cooled, drop the trimmed pork into a container which will keep the meat fully submerged. Should the pork tend to rise to the surface, weight down with a heavy plate or lid. Allow to brine several hours, much preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Remove pork from brine, rinse thoroughly and dry well. Season with pepper and carraway seeds. Heat a large, heavy roasting pan with olive oil and duck fat over medium high and and rub cloves into the pan surface for a minute or two. Discard garlics and then, sear pork loin on all sides until nicely browned. Remove pork from pan and place onto a platter or rimmed baking sheet.

Meanwhile, in a very large bowl combine and toss the cabbage, fennel, onions, chiles, toasted caraway seeds, salt, pepper and orange juice.

Over two burners, deglaze the pan with chicken stock over medium high to high heat, using a wooden spatula to scrape the bottom. Add the cabbage mixture and with the garlic halves placed on the side, top with the seared pork. Place uncovered into the oven and roast, basting throughout, until the internal temperature (plunged in the flesh away from a bone) reads between 140-145 F, about 1 hour.

Remove the roasting pan from the oven and place onto the stovetop. Carefully remove pork from pan and set aside on a cutting board, loosely tented, and allow to rest. Turn heat to high, then reduce to medium high, add mustard and apple cider vinegar to cabbage mixture in the pan and stir to combine thoroughly. Then add wine and reduce.

Carve pork into separate rib servings, arrange each on plates over a nest of cabbage. Spoon the sauce over and around the pork and then garnish first with a hint of orange zest then cilantro leaves.

Butt Ssäm-wich

March 28, 2012

There is no such thing as an ugly woman.
~Vincent Van Gogh

Ssäm (쌈) simply translates as “wrapped,” and refers to a Korean dish in which larger leafy greens — lettuce, cabbage, seaweed, sesame or bean and pumpkin leaves — are often used to cloak meat such as slow and low roasted or braised pork (belly or butt). But tongue, fish, kalbi, bulgogi, roe, and clams have also lined these luscious roll ups over time. Have to suggest and although this is by no means a directive or ethnically correct, ssäm would be divine with braised sweetbreads. Just a little whimsy.

Some say that ssäm was first savored by certain young women of the Goryeo dynasty, called Kisaeng (euphemistically pronounced kis-sang) or “art persons.” These comfort women emerged in the 10th century and were meticulously trained in music and poetry, but were also conscripted and subjugated as courtesans. Closely regulated as government slaves over time, they were obliged to entertain and offer their sensual wares with local royalty, military officers and dignitaries from China, Japan and other reaches. Sadly, other than rather vague anecdotal references, an unnerving and undeserved, even shameful, cold silence has enveloped the centuries old Kisaeng — likely resulting from repeated sexual abuses, horrid exploitation and degradation, and harsh postcolonial memories in Korea. Japan was particularly complicit in war crimes involving sexual violence with “comfort women” in territories occupied by the imperial military during World War II yet the country continues to ignore and abstain. The atrocious horrors of human servitude and trafficking usually meet with baseless denials and have ever been worse than intolerable. Is there true remorse?

(With a few alterations, this recipe is more than loosely adapted from the phenom chef/owner David Chang from New York’s momofuku restaurants — noodle bar, ssäm bar, ko, má pêche, seiōbo, and the bakery milk bar.) I might add this dish is flat sublime and will no doubt enrapture all around your table.

PORK BUTT SSAM

7-8 lb bone-in pork butt
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 C white sugar
1/2 C raw sugar
1 C coarse sea salt

1 T coarse sea salt
1/2 C light brown sugar

1/4 C honey

Thoroughly mix both sugars and salt in a bowl. Rub pork with a few smashed garlics then rub the dry sugars/salt mixture all over the pork butt and cover thoroughly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 6 hours or overnight.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300 F

Remove pork from refrigerator, discard any juices and allow to reach room temperature. Place the pork in a large, heavy roasting pan, place in the oven and cook, basting every hour after the first two hours, until meat is tender and easily shredded with a fork, about 7 hours or so. The internal temperature should read about 195 F.  At that temp, the connective tissues have melted, and the pork will be fork-tender and juicy.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together remaining tablespoon of coarse sea salt and brown sugar and then set aside.

Increase oven temperature to 500 F

Sprinkle and rub in the salt and brown sugar mixture over the top and sides of the pork, then drizzle with honey. Return pork to oven until nicely crusted, about 10 minutes. Remove the meat from the oven and allow to rest some. Carefully extract the single bone in the butt and discard, then shred the butt with forks and fingers.

White rice, cooked (bap)
Kimchi

Bibb lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried
Chinese steamed buns (mantou)
Flour tortillas, warmed

Serve shredded pork enveloped in lettuce wraps bedded in rice or noodles or in chinese steamed buns or in small flour tortillas. Bed in some rice or noodles, lightly mount with kimchi and lather with ginger-scallion, ssäm, gochu garu and sichuan pepper, Korean soy sauce, and/or red curry peanut sauces. Try to avoid the urge to overload.

Ginger-Scallion Sauce
2 1/2 C thinly sliced scallions
1/2 C fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 C grapeseed or canola oil
1 T light soy sauce
1 t sherry vinegar
Pinch of sea salt

In a medium bowl whisk all ingredients together.

Ssäm Sauce
1/3 C fermented bean & chili paste (ssamjang)
2 T chili paste (kochujang)
1 t sherry vinegar
1/4 C grapeseed or canola oil

In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients together.

Gochu Garu and Sichuan Pepper
3 T Korean red pepper powder (gochu garu)
1 t Sichuan peppercorn, toasted and ground
1 t white sesame seeds, toasted
Pinch of sea salt
2 T canola oil
Pinch of sugar

In a small bowl, combine the Korean red pepper powder, Sichuan peppercorn, sesame seeds and salt. In a small saucepan, warm the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking.

Pour half of the hot oil over the chile powder mixture. Whisk the mixture and add the remaining oil. Stir again to moisten all of the dry ingredients and add the sugar.

Allow the mixture to cool, then taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and/or sugar.

“Korean” Soy Sauce
2 T shoyu
1 T water
1-2 t sesame oil
1 t white sugar
1 t raw sugar
1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 t Korean red pepper powder (gochu garu)
2 T green onion, white and green parts finely chopped
3 t sesame seeds, toasted then crushed with a mortar and pestle

In a small bowl, stir together the shoyu, water, sesame oil and sugars, until the sugars have fully dissolved. Add the garlic, red pepper powder, green onion and sesame seeds. Refrigerate while the pork cooks to allow the flavors to meld.

Red Curry Peanut Sauce
1/4 C roasted salted peanuts
1 T brown sugar

2-3 t Thai red curry paste
8-10 T water
2 t peanut oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 C shallot, peeled and finely chopped
2 fresh Thai or serrano chilies, including seeds, thinly sliced crosswise

Finely grind 3 tablespoons peanuts in a food processor along with brown sugar. Finely chop remaining tablespoon peanuts by hand and set aside.

Stir together curry paste (to taste) and 6 tablespoons water until paste is dissolved.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté garlic, shallot, and chiles, stirring, until golden, about 4 minutes. Add ground peanut mixture and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in curry mixture and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in chopped peanuts.

Allow to reach room temperature, then dilute with water to reach desired consistency.

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.