If you watch a lot of cooking shows and Food Network, you soon learn about what are currently “trendy” ingredients or dishes. If I have to see one more television chef do something with polenta, shrimp and grits, watermelon gazpacho, etc., I will pull my hair out. Alright, already! You’re super downhomelowcountryrustichisptercool. But, there is one so-called trending ingredient that I am obsessed with. And that is pork belly.
Pork belly, for the uninitiated, is exactly what it sounds like. You see it a lot in Asian cooking (hello, David Chang!) but also in southern food. Which is how I first enjoyed this cut of meat. It was at a restaurant in Ottawa and it was simply awesome. But since I live in Kingston and we are not exactly a culinary mecca (or even a metropolis – I sometimes go weeks without seeing a person of colour) I certainly didn’t expect to ever find pork belly in town. Enter Farm Boy.
Farm Boy, as I’ve written many times, is like my second home. No lie – when they started following me on Twitter it felt like one of the biggest triumphs of my life. So wandering around Farm Boy one day, I asked the butcher casually if they sell pork belly. I wasn't expecting them to say yes. But they do. She came out with an enormous slab of delicious pork and cut me off a piece. I’m not even kidding: I was so emotionally overwhelmed and giddy that I almost burst into tears. Farm Boy, if you’re reading this, if you ever need someone to come work in your marketing department, you know who to ask. (Not kidding. I am underemployed).
So here is how to cook your belly of the beast. First of all, southern cooking has a lot of regionalism and people tend to get their back up over the best way to do anything. Researching pork belly recipes online and reading the comments was like stepping into a reproductive rights debate. But here is the recipe I went with.
First of all, pat your whole pork belly dry and sprinkle it with salt. This helps draw out the moisture, which will crisp up the skin. Next, score the skin. (Many many people online said not to score the skin, but I did and it turned out yummy). Don’t you dare cut into the meat though – just the skin. Turn your oven up super hot. I did mine at 450. Pop your pork belly in (on a rack, for goodness’ sake) for fifteen minutes, skin up. I forgot about mine for a bit (I believe I may have been watching an episode of The Wire) and it was too crunchy, so make it just fifteen minutes. You’ll see the skin start to blister and render. (By the by, as you’re prepping your pork belly cut, you’ll notice that it’s alarmingly human-like. Definitely avoid any and all crime shows before and after this meal).
Now turn your oven down to a mild 325 and roast your belly for a solid two hours. Brush it with a barbecue sauce of your choice every fifteen minutes or so. I used apple butter and that was quite good. Let your belly rest for about twenty minutes out of the oven before slicing. The skin should be crisp and saucy and delish.
I served my belly with a simple tomato and spinach salad and some cashew green beans (both courtesy of my love – guest blog forthcoming?)
Now if you’re feeling super ambitious like I was, cap off the meal with a homemade banana cream pie and you have yourself a southern meal you won’t soon forget! Nom nom nom.