Saturday, April 12, 2008

let's talk about pork

I've had pork belly on the brain since I got back from New York. You see, I finally made it to Momofuku, and tried the famous pork buns. Sadly, I wasn't particularly impressed.

The pork buns at Momofuku consist of slices of braised pork belly and pickled cucumber, glistening with hoisin sauce, wrapped in flat steamed buns. The pork had a lovely texture - wonderfully tender, with luscious, wobbly fat - but I could barely taste it underneath the hoisin sauce. I'm all for reinterpreting classic dishes in a new manner, but I can't say I like the product of crossing red-cooked pork with Peking duck.

I've been eating red-cooked braised pork belly since childhood. Red-cooking, or hong shao, involves a braising liquid (rock sugar, cooking wine, soy sauce, and various spices) that gives anything cooked in it a dark, reddish brown color. It can be used for chicken, beef, and even fish, but red-cooking pork produces particularly delicious results.

I could have made straight up red-cooked braised pork belly, but I couldn't resist the allure of fusion cuisine. Salt pork belly is a traditional component of choucroute garnie, so I decided to create a braised pork belly recipe using the seasonings found in choucroute garnie. The pork turned out moderately sweet and a little spicy, with a faint, almost piney note from the juniper berries. I am pleased to note that it also tasted like pork.

Now I just have to find another dish to cross it with. Anyone up for a braised pork belly "hot dog?"

Port-Braised Pork Belly

I didn't have any sauerkraut, and the stuff at the supermarket looked very dubious, so I served this pork with cornichons and pickled onions, steamed buns made with cornmeal, white bean mash, and a simple spinach salad. It would go equally well with potatoes and sauerkraut, though, or even cornbread and pickled string beans.

(Serves one for many days. It just gets better every time it's reheated.)

Acquire two pounds of fresh (not salted) pork belly. If you buy your pork belly from a real butcher, ask him or her to cut it into slices roughly two-and-a-half inches wide and half an inch thick. If you, like me, can only find pork belly at an Asian supermarket where it comes in inch-wide slabs, you'll have to do the job yourself.

Place the pork slices upright (or semi-upright) in a heavy pot large enough to hold them in a single layer. Sprinkle over half a teaspoon of coarse salt, and two tablespoons of brown sugar. Add two sprigs of fresh rosemary, four whole cloves, four crushed juniper berries, one bay leaf, and one teaspoon of crushed black peppercorns.

Cover with two cups of cheap, dreadful port, or one cup of cheap port and one cup of cheap red wine, if you're short on port. There should be just enough liquid to cover the pork; add a little water if there isn't.

Cover the pot, and place it on the stove over medium heat. Once it comes to a boil, turn the heat down to low, so that the liquid is at a low simmer. Find something to occupy your time for next three hours, such as laundry, or reading, or outlining for exams. Check on the pork once an hour; skim off any scum that forms on the surface. Turn down the heat if it looks as though the braising liquid is evaporating too quickly.

When the three hours are up, check on the pork. The meat should be fork-tender and the fat lusciously wobbly. Leave the lid off the pot, bring the heat up to medium, and reduce the braising liquid until it becomes a thick, glossy sauce.

Serve with something starchy, something pickled, and something green.


Kim said...

Looks good.......How about if you cook and I fold. Forget the outline! If I serve this on a cornmeal muffin, could it pass as Southern?

adele said...

Pork and cornmeal... sure, why not? :)

Cakelaw said...

Yum! I have always wanted to try cooking a duck like this, just like the ones in the Chinese shop windows, but have always felt a little shy about it.

BTW, I have tagged you for a meme:

Julie said...

Wow! Sounds delicious. I always think of things like this as a major cooking project so I'm impressed.

adele said...

Cakelaw - Oh, please do!

Julie - It's not as complicated as it sounds, I promise. The hardest part was tracking down the juniper berries.

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Foodichka said...

Have you ever made a tipan? It's a delicious Chinese pork roast braised and roasted in a deep pot. My uncle does it on special occasions. :-)

adele said...

I haven't. That particular name isn't ringing any bells, either - is it known by any other names?

ntsc The Art of The Pig said...

For the juniper berries try:

They are very good for mail order spices of all kinds.

I'm currently curing pork belly with juniper berries as pancetta.

adele said...

Pancetta with juniper? Yum. :)

ntsc said...

This will be the second 5 pound pancetta since February. My wife likes cooking with pancetta.

We Are Never Full said...

you have most definitely got me drooling with this one! looks absolutely unhealthy and fabulous!

I'm also thankful for your candid assessment of Momofuko. I live in NYC and I'm kind of getting sick of everyone obsessing over it. I kind of want to try, but, like many trendy restaurants here, I'll prob. wait till the hype dies down in a few years. I'll def. keep your words in mind when/if I eventually eat there.

adele said...

Hello, we are never full!

(Great name.)

I think Momofuku is worth visiting at least once, but it's not the be-all and end-all of fusion cuisine. Waiting until the hype dies down seems like a smart move.

I have some things to say about the ramen, too, though that's waiting for when I write about soup noodles...

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