Cookery Maven Blog

Pork Belly Love

I needed to clean out my freezer, it was starting to look like a science experiement— more mad scientist than Bill Nye. There were venison steaks, chicken stock, aluminum foiled mystery packages and a large block of pink salt a friend gave me three years ago. Instead of pitching everything in the garbage and achieving clean freezer nirvana from a large trash bag, I decided to eat what was salvageable (if I could identify it first). Remember when I had the Pagan dinner back in April? Well, there was a lonely and rather large piece of pork belly sitting on the second shelf, waiting for something marvelous to happen. Agave Glazed Pork Belly (recipe from Bon Appetit) was about as marvelous as I could imagine.

As luck would have it, I had a bag of dried habanero chiles in my spice drawer, a bunch of Thai chili peppers (I used them instead of the serranos) and the local IGA had fresh poblanos. I also picked up some plantains— this dinner had serious potential to be one of the best of summer 2012. Of course, my stalwart friend Tajin Classico seasoning, made several appearances throughout the meal. If they ever stop making that stuff, I'll weep hysterically.

I did take a few departures from the recipe— I grilled the entire pork belly after I braised it in the oven. I was afraid the glaze would flame up and char the pieces and dry them out. I think it was a good call— I ended up shredding the pork and pouring the left over glaze on the juicy meat. Every bite had a beautiful balance of heat and sweetness. I generously bathed the pork belly in Tajin before I put it in oven (definitely added to the spiciness), added onions and garlic to the pepper mixture and didn't add the chiles back into the glaze. It was plenty hot and I wanted my kids to eat without complaining their mouths were on fire and asking about peanut butter.

I sprinkled Tajin on the pineapple before I put it on the grill. It was a match made in heaven and complimented the pork beautifully. Grill the pineapple in a 350 - 400 degree grill for about 5 minutes per side. Remember to oil the grates (I used vegetable oil) or they will stick. The smell of warm pineapple and caramelized sugar is divine.

I made a green salad with yellow peppers, purple cabbage, red onion and quesco fresco with a lime and cilantro vinaigrette. I don't really have a recipe for the salad dressing other than combine equal parts lime juice and olive oil, some honey (to taste), Tajin seasoning (a couple teaspoons) and chopped cilantro. I made this salad for the first time for Charlie's birthday (the one with the nuclear Mojitos) and I pull it out every time I make something from south of the border.

I made white rice with lime and coconut milk, sliced some avocados, chopped cilantro and opened a couple of bottles of wine. I knew I had a winner when there was silence for 4 or 5 minutes after we all sat down. It takes a really good meal to quiet the din around my table and this dinner was a home run. It was exactly what I hoped for when I spied that forgotten slab of meat in the freezer— pure pork belly love.

Porchetta For A Pagan Dinner

The last Wednesday of every month is PDC (Pagan Dinner Club). I am game for anything that involves food, wine and conversation around a table. Plus, I have always felt a little pagan. Last November, I opened my issue of Bon Appetit and saw the sexiest piece of meat I have ever seen— Porchetta (take a look at the recipe and picture here).  For the past six months, that lovely piece of pork loin wrapped in pork belly would start calling my name but I never pulled the trigger. Until last Wednesday. It was my turn to host dinner and I knew exactly what to make, the porchetta of my dreams.  I followed the recipe to the letter except I used a full loin and pork belly and adjusted the spices and garlic accordingly. It was an extraordinary piece of meat— tender, flavorful and sexy.

What else does one serve with a massive amount of pork wrapped in luscious pork belly? Why, fingerling potatoes and sweet onions roasted in duck fat with pancetta and a Caesar salad (I forgot the anchovies) with croutons sautéed in olive oil and the drippings from the porchetta. Those croutons were a stroke of genius, one I intend to repeat over and over. I tossed the potatoes in duck fat and roasted them at 400 degrees for about 30 - 35 minutes on parchment paper. I laid pancetta on top about 10 minutes before they were done and crumbled it after I pulled them out of the oven. Duck fat is magic, the potatoes had the most delectable crust— amazing.

We drank a wine from the Piedmont, Cascina del Pozzo Lucrezia Barbera d'Alba. It was perfect with the pork— dry and elegant with subtle fruit notes. It was a little richer in body than other Barberas I have tasted and I really enjoyed it.

There are a few meals I have put together that stand out and this is definitely one of them. Not only was it a good meal, it was an even better evening filled with people I have come to adore. Jim Henson said, 'there's not a word yet, for old friends who've just met'. Ted and I are still new-comers to Bayfield, we have only been here for five years. As I looked around the table, I had a strong feeling that my fellow pagan dinner companions are indeed old friends we have just met.  I have been blessed many times over in my life with beautiful memories of children, family and friends around my table— it is no small thing to share a meal with those you love. I believe it creates a sacred space in our lives which is truly nourishing.