May 07, 2015

Garlic-Braised Pork Belly

This recipe is one component of the intriguing multi-step Vampire Slayer Ramen-Express recipe by the wonderful Lady and Pups.

While I wasn't quite prepared to make the entire ramen recipe as written, the pork belly on its own seemed worth trying immediately, and that was exactly correct. It will make your house smell insanely good, and is definitely worth the long wait after it goes into the oven. I note that the original recipe calls for 30 cloves of garlic (and there's another 14 in the rest of her finished dish), but I felt that 20 was plenty given that the ones I was working with were giant mutant German garlic cloves.

Because pork belly is a bit tricky to slice when freshly cooked, it's a great idea to make this ahead, and then simply slice and gently reheat it to serve.

We had this the first night with veggie yakisoba made from homemade ramen noodles (which I completely forgot to photograph, once cooked) and reheated the leftover pork belly to serve over rice with carrot kinpira, a few nights later, to make the donburi above.

The original recipe recommended a cooking vessel just barely big enough to fit the pork, which is what I did. It did mean that I had to be quite careful later on, not to smash to paste the fragile braised garlic cloves. My piece of pork belly fit perfectly into the oval dutch oven when raw, although once it had been seared on all sides, it drew itself up, becoming narrower and taller. I would probably cut it into two chunks next time, for ease of handling and more surface-contact with the braising liquid.

Garlic-Braised Pork Belly

minimally adapted from Lady and Pups

Serves 4

4 whole dried shitake mushrooms (or 16 small ones) + 1/2 cup hot water
400 grams skin-on pork belly
20 large garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup sake
2 tablespoons less-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon mirin
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 tablespoon peanut oil

Trim any excessive stems from the shiitake, clean them well with a damp cloth, and let them soak in the hot water for 20-30 minutes. Peel the garlic cloves, but leave them whole. Combine the sake, soy sauce, mirin, salt, and white pepper in a small bowl and set aside. Now remove the mushrooms from their soaking liquid, retaining both separately.

Preheat your oven to 330 F/ 165 C.

In a heavy (preferably cast iron) pan that's not too big for your piece of pork, heat the peanut oil and then carefully sear the pork belly on all sides (start skin-side-down). The pork skin should be nicely blistered and a little freaky-looking, if you're not used to that sort of thing. Remove the pork (browned on all sides, now) and add the whole garlic cloves to the pan. Give them a quick stir about and then scoot them to the sides to make space, and put the pork back in the pan. Add the mushroom soaking liquid (pour it in carefully, and don't let any sludge in the bottom go into the pan) and the sake mixture to the pan, and then tuck the mushrooms in around the pork, submerged where possible.

Cover the pan with its lid, or cover tightly with foil if there's no lid, and put the pan in the preheated oven. Allow it to braise for 2 1/2 hours, turning the pork belly over every 30 minutes, carefully not smashing up the garlic too badly.

Remove the finished pork belly from the dregs of the braising liquid, and let cool. If you are making it ahead, once it is cold you can wrap it up tightly and put it in the fridge. If making ahead is not an option and you want to serve it right away, you will need to be okay with the fact that the slices will be rather messy-looking.

I used the remaining braising liquid and the mushrooms to make yakisoba, with a few of the garlic cloves thrown in for good measure. The slices were a mess, because I sliced it warm from the oven, but the rest was packaged up to make the donburi that you see above, and the slices are much, much neater.

In order to reheat the pork belly, I first sliced it, and then lay the slices in a small skillet with a quarter-scaled version of the braising liquid (minus the mushroom liquid). I then reheated it, slowly, covered, over very low heat on the stovetop. A couple of times I gently swirled the pan to make sure the liquid had contact with the cut surfaces of the pork belly slices.

This is without a doubt the best pork belly dish that I've made yet. I can't wait to make it again.

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