Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Glazed Pork Belly with Swiss Chard, Pinot Gris-Poached Granny Smith Apples, and Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette

This was quite possibly the best pork fat I've ever tasted. Most of the time when I eat pork belly, I take the fat off because it feels so unhealthy. This, however, was so good I wanted to eat all of it. The beauty of cooking this sous vide is the fat. Fat melts at 85°C, and the meat is cooked at 82.2°C. What this means is that while the meat is getting tender, the fat does not melt away. One mistake I made, however, was that I cut the pork incorrectly with respect to the grain. I should have cut the pork against the grain, because cutting with the grain made the meat seem more tough and stringy instead of fall-apart tender.

The combination of flavors on the plate was fun. There was the rich and decadent combination of the pork belly and the swiss chard leaves. The leaves were cooked with bacon, another form of pork belly, and could definitely stand up to the richness of the belly. Then there was the vinaigrette and the apple balls, both of which provided a cleansing acidic counterpoint to the fatty pork.

I paired this with a Ravenswood Zinfandel. I thought the fatty pork would help to balance the acidity and tannins of the zin, but I don't think it worked that well. It seemed like the zin overwhelmed the pork, which although it was rich, it was not very heavily flavored.

The pork was cooked 82.2°C for 12 hours, then seared at high heat on all sides. After that, it was cooked in a pork sauce made of reduced pork stock. This cooked down until it became thick and glazed the belly.

The swiss chard leaves were cooked with bacon, onions, and garlic, then roasted with additional chicken stock in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes. Then it was reduced on the stove until the chicken stock thickened and glazed the leaves.

The chard stems were cooked sous vide at 85°C for 75 minutes, with bay leaves, thyme, and garlic. Be careful with the herbs! The stems really soak up the flavor.

The final touch were granny smith apple balls. These were cooked sous vide at 85°C for 30 minutes in a solution of water, sugar, and an Oregon pinot gris. These provided a perfect counterpoint to the richness of the belly. The sous vide cooking allowed the apple balls to soak up the sugar and wine, while retaining a toothsome bite.

The vinaigrette was simple, with Dijon mustard, olive oil, honey, salt, and pepper.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Twelve hour pork belly

Unhindered by my lack of success with the short ribs, I decided to move onto pork belly. The recipe is also from Thomas Keller's Under Pressure. The crazy recipe involved sous vide at every turn, from the pork belly (82.2 °C for 12 hours) to apples (85 °C for 30 minutes) to swiss chard stems (85 °C for 1 hour, 15 minutes).

The pork started off overnight in a brine of salt, sugar, onions, carrots, bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns.
After that, it was put into a bag with chicken stock, more herbs and spices, and cooked for 12 hours at 82.2 °C. Twelve hours later, it is put in an ice bath and chilled.

When I finally took it out of the bag, it came out a beautiful pale pink color with subtle alternating layers of meat and fat. The fat was so soft, trimming it was like cutting through a piece of lard.
In my next post, I will tell you how the dish turned out. Until then, I will leave you with an appetizer. I laid thin strips of fat trimmings on top of a plain garlic bruschetta. It was delicious! The feeling of cold pork fat melting on your tongue, contrasting with the crisp texture of the toasted bread was amazing. The subtle accents provided by the herbs and spices also added complexity to the pork fat flavor. A wonderful prelude of what was to come...