Pork belly and changing memories

Strips of meat with layers of fat in between trying to lift off the surface of the skillet in small pockets as they make a sizzling noise is a delightful childhood memory for me that was only enhanced by the meaty, fatty smell and satisfying taste of bacon that followed. This was not common occurrence but was distinctly present in an otherwise low pork childhood diet - family members even remember the small neighborhood store where it came from. A few years ago, this memory changed in an unexpected way when I had a small fork full of rich meat that melted in the mouth.

Uncured pork belly braised in stock and then pressed into sharp, tight shapes before being warmed and served with a rich sauce is something I’ve been wanting to make for sometime.

Here’s a method:

Pork belly

Salt

Garlic

Shallots

Herbs like bay leaves and thyme

Homemade chicken stock

White wine

Cut the edges of the pork belly to fit a heavy bottom oven proof skillet with enough volume to hold the braising liquid. Score the surface of the belly with a sharp knife and season with salt; sear the surface on a hot skillet and flip-over; add coarsely chopped shallots, crushed pods of garlic and herbs; deglaze with white wine; add stock till just under surface of the belly and bring to a boil; cook in a 300˚F oven for a couple of hours or until meat is tender. Degrease, filter braising liquid through a sieve and then reduce the liquid before storing. Gently transfer belly to a parchment-lined tray, place another piece of parchment on top and then weigh down with a heavy skillet. Refrigerate overnight. Just before serving, preheat oven to 400˚F, cut the pressed belly into small rectangles, warm in the oven and then serve with the reduced sauce.

I would not have imagined that braised pork belly and bacon share something in common - they look and taste different enough. But when I did, my memories of the two dishes also seemed to merge: childhood memories of smiles and chitter-chatter around the breakfast table with memories of a meal with my wife when I first tasted pork belly, tied together by a three-year old who asks if any red meat that is tender is related to pork belly. The new does not feel so new in the way it connects the present smiles to those past.

6 thoughts on “Pork belly and changing memories

  1. Sudha

    I so agree with you Bala. Early child hood memories of sizzling bacon have matured with the discovery of pork belly. We just love it, be it a pork belly bao, pork belly po' boy, or pork belly braised, glazed or roasted. Our most delightful encounters with this delicious ingredient is in Korean and French cuisines.

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Post author

      All the pork belly dishes you mention sound delightful, aunt (the bao especially gets a lot of Chinese students in school nostalgic); Amrita spoke fondly of her Jamaican experience with pork belly, I will add.

      Reply
  2. Sarah Copeland

    Hi Bala. This dish sounds delightful. If you ask me, anyone who doesn’t love bacon is missing out! Remember when they served it to us at L’Assiette Champenoise? It was as beautiful as it was flavourful. For me the caramelization is important so for a braised dish I would be tempted to fire the top before serving.

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Post author

      Hi Sarah,

      Thank you. Yes, I do remember the Reims experience of bacon, although not the details. I see why you like the caramelization. I like it too. It seemed that the combination of a braise that keeps the top crispy by not touching it and the hot oven at the end to crisp the top further, in combination with the reduced sauce gave the caramelized flavor. I've tried a south Asian version where I brown pieces of braised pork belly and then glaze them with a reduced sauce.

      I hope you've been well.

      Reply
  3. Jeff

    Hi Bala, enjoyed reading your post. I've never tried pork belly, but did remind me of my mom preparing bacon in the skillet, laying the pieces out on a paper towel, and placing them on top of a few slices of tomato, lettuce, and lightly mayonnaised bread. Yum! And another memory - when a friend simply ordered a plate of bacon and a brownie for lunch :). Thank you Bala.

    Reply

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