So, finally, the pork belly confit came together. The above pictures are 1) the pork belly submerged in the cure, 2) the pork belly after coming out of the cure, before being cooked in lard for a few hours, 3) the finished dish, after deep frying (as I hastened to get everything on the table, next some spinach and a shallot tarte), and 4) a different shot of the finished product. As I had company, I sort of forgot about trying to get a good picture of the final product up close, but since I’ve been running on here this week about trying to make this, I’m putting up the pictures I’ve got, good or otherwise.
All told, it was a success. The confit process—curing, then cooking low and slow in fat before cooling overnight and deep frying to finish—produced a crispy interior with a very soft interior. I used the recipe from Charcuterie (the recipe is here, but the whole book is great), and despite all the false starts, everything worked out.
Some thoughts/potential pitfalls for anyone considering making this at home.
- The recipe calls for six pounds of pork belly. Think about that number again. Six pounds. You probably don’t want that much, no matter how well this stuff keeps. I prepared a little over three pounds of pork belly, and only actually deep fried about half of that to serve for four people. Look at that final picture: that’s about one and a half pounds. It was plenty.
- The recipe is a little vague about quantities. One point that caught me off guard came in the first step: make the dry cure, then submerge in white wine. Even for the only three-odd pounds of pork belly, that’s two 750 ml bottles to cover. As I don’t generally have gallons of cheap white around to cook with, this tripped me up. (For the record, I used Two Buck Chuck, and can’t imagine better wine having improved things.)
- For the cooking the pork belly in fat after the cure, the recipe calls for rendered pork or duck fat. Think about this for a moment: who has 1.5 liters of rendered duck fat lying around? I’m sure that would have made for an even more decadent variation, but I stuck with the more reasonable and economical choice to cook with lard.
- On that note, the checker at Stop & Shop on Tuesday night must have had a few thoughts about me coming up to the register frantically at 10:45 with a six pack of beer and six pounds of lard (which even then I knew was more than I needed, but after the wine shortfall, I wanted to be prepared for anything. Also, be sure that your local market has lard. For some reason, lard is harder to find these days than it should be (and a lot of self-consciously gourmet places like Whole Foods don’t carry it).
- After the pork belly has been cooked in the oven, covered with fat and refrigerated, you’ve got to dig the pieces out in order to take that final cooking step. It takes quite a while to soften up all the chilled fat to facilitate digging out the pieces, though—a good deal more than the hour I’d planned on—so I had to put the bowl in the oven to soften everything up. Not a big deal, but worth knowing. I’d give at least four or five hours at room temperature were I to do this again.
- The flavors really did go well with the spinach with a vinaigrette, the carmelized shallots, and mustard. Not that this is rocket science. Still, I was pleased.
Now that that’s done with, I can go vegan for a few days to recover.