May 5, 2016

Dear friends,

I could say the universe conspired against my pork-belly cookout Monday, but I don’t think the universe gives a damn what I do with pork belly. I am so weary of people blaming everything on the universe or, worse yet, fate (“everything happens for a reason”). Take a humble pill, people! Take some responsibility!

Ok, that’s out of my system. Anyway, I had planned to grill-smoke the handsome hunk of pork belly I got at Sherman Provision in Norton but we had no charcoal lighter fluid and the fire-starting wand was nowhere to be found because Tony had put it somewhere and he is still in Japan and the day was overcast and I miss him terribly and oh, to heck with it. I came inside and tossed the meat in the oven.

I say “meat” loosely because pork belly is mostly fat. It is bacon before it’s cured and sliced. It is seriously delicious, and just what I needed on a dreary day.

The pork belly trend is still roaring in upscale restaurants, where it graces salads, grits, sandwiches, tacos and more. The texture can be crisp or soft and pillow-y depending on how it is prepared. Most chefs begin by brining the pork belly so I did, too. I sliced off the rind (which toughens during cooking) and rubbed both fatty and meat sides with salt and sugar, and marinated it overnight in a plastic zip-lock bag with equal parts bourbon and water.

After giving up on the grill, I looked to chef David Chang for advice on roasting. I used his technique from “The Momofuku Cookbook” of roasting in a pan just large enough to snugly hold it. My 2-pound hunk of pork belly fit in a large loaf pan with no room to spare. After an hour at high temperature and an hour at low temperature, it was done. Chang wraps and chills the cooked pork belly to ensure neat slices, but I had no problem slicing the warm meat with a serrated knife.

I had planned to dice the pork, crisp it in a skillet and nestle it in tacos with cilantro and a squeeze of lime, but I didn’t. It had started to rain and I didn’t feel festive. I photographed the pork and ate a couple of slices standing at the counter. The rest is in the freezer waiting for Tony’s return. Pork belly is an indulgent meal to share.

PORK BELLY WITH BOURBON AND BROWN SUGAR

pork.jpg

  • 1 piece (about 2 lbs.) pork belly
  • 2 tbsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup bourbon
  • 1 cup water

Use your sharpest knife to slice the rind from the pork belly, leaving as much fat as possible on the meat. . This can be achieved by angling the edge of the blade toward the rind while slicing. Discard rind or save for pork cracklings.

Rub the salt and sugar over both sides of the pork belly. Place in a gallon plastic zip-lock bag with the bourbon and water and seal. Refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove meat from bag and discard brine. Place pork belly fat side up in a pan just large enough to hold it snugly (a large loaf pan works well). Roast uncovered at 450 degrees for 1 hour or until fat has browned, basting after 30 minutes.

Reduce temperature to 250 degrees and roast 1 to 1 1/4 hours longer. The pork should be tender but not falling apart. Cool for 30 minutes before cutting into 1/2-inch-thick slices with a serrated knife. Serve at room temperature, or gently warmed in a skillet, or crisped in some of the rendered pork drippings.

Some serving suggestions:

• Scatter a few slices over a salad as an appetizer.

• Tuck several pieces in a bun and top with a vinegar-based coleslaw.

• Serve over cheesy polenta or grits.

• Cube and fry with potatoes for an upscale hash.

• Swap it for bacon in a BLT.

HELP U COOK

The next time you grill steaks, season them with a ridiculous amount of salt and pepper and remove them from the grill way too soon. These two tricks should give you the best steaks you’ve ever cooked.
Most of us under-season meat before cooking. We sprinkle on some salt and pepper, as we would season food at the table. But to really bring out the flavor of meat, you should rub almost a teaspoon of coarse salt into each side of a steak, and follow that up with lots of pepper. Then grill. It won’t taste too salty.

Also, plan ahead to allow your steaks to rest about 10 minutes before serving. Not only will they be juicier, as the moisture is evenly dispersed through the meat, but they will finish cooking off the fire. Yes, the meat will continue to turn from bloody to pink or from pink to medium-well while resting off the heat. So if you like medium-rare, remove the steaks from the heat when they’re still fairly rare.

TIDBIT

While shopping at a Nepali market in the North Hill area of Akron, I saw a flyer for the 2-month-old Everest restaurant, located where Raj Mahal used to be on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls. Then I saw a mention by Katie Byard in last week’s Beacon Journal. I had to go.

The restaurant has Nepalese and Indian food, and both are represented on the daily buffets. I stopped by last Sunday and loved the bone-in curried chicken, butter chicken, pakora (turmeric batter-fried vegetables) and the thick, soft flatbread.

The restaurant is at 2033 State Road, phone 234-706-6630. It is open for lunch and dinner daily except Tuesdays. The Sunday buffet is $9. I was told I could see the daily menu on the restaurant’s website, but it hasn’t been posted yet. The website is https://everestrestaurant.net.

THE MAILBAG

From Jim S.:
My grandmother and mother each made the hot bacon dressing the same way you wrote it up.  We kids always called it dandelion dressing, but out of dandelion season we ate it on spinach too. It’s also great on wilted lettuce–pour over torn iceberg lettuce and sweet onions.  (I write this and I’m back on my Aunt Ferne’s porch for summer Sunday family dinner.)  As your mother said, “Yum!
 
Dear Jim: I hope these old recipes don’t die out. They invoke a lot of family history. My grandmother poured the hot dressing over curly endive in the winter.

From Kathy C.:
I was just reading this week’s newsletter and had to smile at the dandelion discussion. When I was a kid, my Sicilian grandmother would stop the car (or have my father stop if we were all together going somewhere) if we were driving by a big open field so she could pick the greens.  She loved them.  I didn’t learn to appreciate them until much, much later.

Dear Kathy: What a great memory. My family didn’t forage for anything except blackberries, which may be why I’m so crazy about foraging now. In the 1980s and 1990s I used to see elderly women picking wild grape leaves along Riverview Road in Akron in the fall, and I’d long to be invited into their kitchens to watch them cook.

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