Monday, February 6, 2012

Bacon's Brother, Pork Belly, And an Artist's Birthday

Ok so I know I know bacon is out. It's no longer cool. It's over! But Pork Belly is so in!

In it's latest incarnation Pork Belly has become a popular menu item all over the place. I mean I grew up in the South and I never really ate a lot of it. I never even really was aware of it, until the resurgence of Pork, which happened in the last 20 years. Pork was such a low class meat. it was always the meat of the poor, or a meat which was associated with budget dinners like Pork chops and applesauce. ( thank you Peter Brady ). Of course bacon was big, and popular, but cuts of pork were popular because of their economy more than just their taste.

As US. pork producers turned their attention to breeding lower fat beasts, they hoped that they could turn Pork's image around from an unhealthy alternative to other meats, to one which had the nutritional value of those other meats. You know "the other white meat". And as we see on menus at the finest establishments they succeeded to some extent.

So with the swell of bacon's popularity in the food economy, Pork Belly took it's place among the culinary preparations popularized by such Chefs as Jamie Oliver in England and April Bloomfield in NYC. Pork Belly is bacon. Uncured and fresh it is the same cut of meat used to make bacon. So it has a high fat content and a lot of flavor. Because let's face it, fat equals flavor. It became a popular preparation in the gastopub revolution that happened in Britain. British chefs rediscovering and reinventing their national dishes and pork belly was amongst those foods popularized again by this movement. Here in the states as pork became king of flavor again it was a natural cut of meat to become popularized.

My first contact really was in the catering world. As chefs continued to follow the foodie trends and offer it as an alternative meat. Mostly shied away from by most clients, it showed a connection to and a hipness  for, the most modern food trends out there. But I thought when I had it that it was really good. I mean I had had it at Chinese restaurants but had never thought twice about it. BBQ pork Belly was something I had tried at those places but never recognized it as bacon's brother.

So one day out of the blue I decided to make it at home.  Well it was not exactly out of the blue, I was walking home from Hell's Kitchen ( that's a neighborhood in NYC if anyone was wondering) and I called a friend of mine Angelo Musco, whose birthday was the next day. Well long story made short, next thing I knew I was making dinner for him and 2 other friends that night!

OK so dinner on the fly, something impressive, and worthy of my friend's place and space in my life. I met Angelo Musco in 2002, ten years ago. And not only was he voted the best new friend of 2002, but he has become one of the most important and pivotal people in my life over the last ten years. Sharing wonderful times and heartache alike this is a person I love and adore. He also happens to be an amazing artist as well as an amazing friend. You can check out his work at .

So you can see that planning this dinner on the fly was going to be no short order. But I had a secret weapon. I had Esposito's Pork Shop. Yes this classic NYC butcher was steps away from where I was when the invitation was finished to dinner. So into Esposito's I went.

Now for those of you who do not know about Esposito's, it is a bit of a legend in the NYC food scene, and one of the oldest butcher shops outside the Meat Packing district for home cooks left in the city. It is famous for Pork and Pork products, although you can buy anything there. So I go in and tell my guy what I am trying to do. He says how about Pork Belly. I say oh no that will take to long I thought that needed hours of braising. He says to me I will give you a recipe that can have it on the table in one hour and ten minutes cooking time. So I said, lets do it!

So armed with my Pork and my recipe I head home. One I get home I think well I should have everything I will need. The recipe seemed almost too simple. Pork, Onions, apples, white wine. I have all that. But as I begin to put together everything on the fly, I realize someone has eaten the last apple and has drunk the last bit of white wine hanging out in the fridge. So I start to think. Well, I could substitute the apples with dried prunes and prune juice which I have, and I an use beer instead of wine. OK, well hope it all works. I put everything into the pan as directed, crank up the oven to 425, and we are off. After cooking 30 mins at high heat I add the beer and let it cook another 45 mins. In the meantime, fix a salad, plan a side dish ( stovetop Mac N Cheese with a Grueyere cheese sauce) ,  get the table set and plan dessert. No small feat.

Well, when dinner was served what went out to the table was spectacular. The Pork has crisped and caramelized, the onions were sweet and salty, and the prunes plump. This on top of a bed of the Mac N Cheese was really impressive.
                                          In the pan with the sauce waiting to be reduced

                                         On the plate with grueyere mac n cheese and onions on top                                                

So I give you my new Pork Belly recipe. Please give it a try, do not fear the pig! And all will be well in Zion and on your table! Enjoy!

Individual Pork Belly with onion Confit  Gastopub Style


2 lbs pork belly cut into 4 pieces
2 large yellow onions
1/2 cups Prune Juice
1/4 cup dried prunes finely chopped
salt pepper
3 tablespoons BBQ seasoning ( I use Bluesmoke Flavor Blend )
2 cups Beer

Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Place onions, prunes, and prune juice
in the bottom os a heavy roasting Skillet ( I use cast iron )
Sprinkle with salt
rub pork belly with spice
place on top of onions
place in the oven and bake for 35 mins
Then pour the beer into the pan and bake for another 45 mins.
Bake until the pork is crackled and brown. and remove from oven.
Take pork out of pan.
Place skillet on stove top and bring to boil.
Reduce till juice in pan is thick and syrupy and onions are well coated.
Return pork to pan and top with  mound of the onions
Place into warm oven till ready to serve.

To serve place on top of side dish of choice and garnish with chopped chives or parsley.

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