Pork belly is one of the greatest parts of one of the yummiest (if not the yummiest) animals on the planet. This cut of pork has the ability to be both luscious and crisp at the same time. And when you think about it that is a truly challenging thing to accomplish. The most common product made with pork belly is strip bacon, but it has many possibilities fresh. This dish is braised, but I've also deep fried it.
After reading many pork belly recipes over the last few days I decided that none of them sounded like exactly what I wanted. I was also unwilling to go to the store to buy any more ingredients to create many of the dishes I'd been reading about. With this being my situation, and having a pound of pork belly and a napa cabbage on hand, this is what I came up with for dinner. My fingers are crossed, but if the worst should happen there's a good pizza place nearby that delivers.
The skin and fat gets scored before anything else.
Score the fat on the belly and sliver some garlic. Cut three slits into the meaty part of the belly and push the slivered garlic into the slits. The belly gets a good dusting of Chinese five spice and then a few generous squirts of soy sauce. That whole mess gets put in the fridge for a few hours.
Ready for the fridge
When the pork belly has had a few hours to marinate in the fridge, roughly slice some napa cabbage and chop some garlic scapes (they aren't necessary; you can use a few cloves of garlic instead, but I'd just bought these at the farmers market.) At this point the oven gets heated to 350 degrees, which is high for braising but my oven is a little cold.
Garlic scapes and napa cabbage.
Now it's time to sear the belly. Add a glug of olive oil to a braising dish, and heat it on the stove until shimmery. Once it's heated sear the belly on all sides. Keep the container that you marinated the belly in, a little later you're going to need it. Once all sides are seared and brown remove the belly and add the chopped garlic scapes.
When the scapes are aromatic, add the chopped napa cabbage and a little water. Once the cabbage starts to wilt, make two little pockets in the cabbage and nestle a piece of belly in each one.
At this point take the dish that the belly was marinated in and loosen the marinade that's left in it with a quick splash of water, pour it over the belly and cabbage. For dramatic effect I placed a curl of garlic scape which was left lonesome on the counter in with the belly. Covered it with the lid and placed it in the oven.
This pound of pork belly took 1.5 hours to cook It's ready when the meat is tender, the layer of fat is quivering and the cabbage is perfumed with the garlic scapes and coated with pork fat.
So far so good.
The best part of pork belly is that it can have the satisfying crunch of bacon, but still be tender and juicy like a well cooked pork chop. I've achieved tender, now it's time to achieve the crunch.
The plan is to heat up my broiler and crisp the skin and fat, thereby achieving the much sought after tender/crunchy dynamic. While the broiler is heating I've made some rice, and also taken some of the cabbage that did not go into the pot with the belly and steamed it. Normally steamed cabbage doesn't really do much for me, but this is a lovely head of cabbage from the local farmers market and I think it will be really nice alongside my delicious, yet very rich pork belly.
Under the broiler.
It takes a few minutes but eventually the belly will start to make popping noises. Be very careful because this will go from delightfully crisp to on fire very quickly.
Pork belly, rice, steamed and braised cabbage.
All of my pork belly goals were achieved, tender and crisp, luscious and savory. Once again this meal has been more than recession friendly; the entire head of cabbage (there's still some left as well) and the pound of pork belly were 2$ and 2.79$ respectively.
I'm very pleased with how my experiment went, this is a recipe that will definitely be repeated.