April 10, 2011

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.

April 7, 2011
So the accidental rillettes worked out okay, though I’m not sure I can really handle having four pounds of mostly pork fat with the tiniest bit of meat hanging out in my fridge. Good thing properly preserved rillettes keep for months.

So the accidental rillettes worked out okay, though I’m not sure I can really handle having four pounds of mostly pork fat with the tiniest bit of meat hanging out in my fridge. Good thing properly preserved rillettes keep for months.

April 6, 2011
Kitchen Nightmares

Waking up at 4:51 in the morning to realize that you’d fallen asleep on the couch (which is understandable, since you’d only gotten off work just before 10:00 two nights in a row). Before falling asleep though, around 11:00, you’d put the cured pork belly into lard to poach for two to three hours. You’d have liked not to have done that so late, but it really was a now or never moment: the nitrate and other sodium in the cure would have ravaged the meat if you’d left it in the cure for another day, and even if you’d removed it from the liquid, you figured that the only way to really arrest the moisture-drawing effects of the cure would be to cook the pork belly. When you wake, you do so with a start, because you immediately know, partially because of the smell, that the pork belly is still poaching in the oven, and even without testing it, you know it’s overcooked. (You still test it, of course, in the vain hope that it might be salvaged, but while it’s not burnt—low and slow cooking doesn’t tend to burn things—you can’t even get a piece to come out intact when you try to pick one up with a fork.) Getting back to sleep is, predictably, pretty hard at that point.

At least the flavor was dead on; perhaps the overcooked pork belly can be repurposed with a little extra salt and other seasonings and then shredded, before being packed into jars or ramekins, covered with some of the cooking fat, and served as accidental rillettes, even if not on Saturday (because of the obvious similarities in flavor they’ll share with the intended main, the confit you’ll still be trying to make).

April 5, 2011

Pork belly futures, step 2.

Yes, the pork belly turned red from the wine. And, yes, that’s about four pounds of pork belly in about four pounds of lard.

Potential problems: I not only ran out of white wine for the cure, I used all the red I had on hand, too. While I was able to push all of the meat down into the wine for a second or two, it wasn’t exactly submerged. When I opened the curing meat tonight, a good chunk of it was clearly not covered with the wine. Now I’m wondering how the half-cured bits will work out.

April 4, 2011
Pork belly futures, part 1.

Will the cure work as planned, even though I had too little white wine and had to use what I had left of some red to cover the meat? Will the red leave the pork an unappetizing color? Have I just spent too much on what should be a most humble cut of pork?

Tune in on Saturday. (Or, really, a few nights before that, when I fry up a piece in a dry run for Saturday. But that doesn’t have the same ring.)

Pork belly futures, part 1.

Will the cure work as planned, even though I had too little white wine and had to use what I had left of some red to cover the meat? Will the red leave the pork an unappetizing color? Have I just spent too much on what should be a most humble cut of pork?

Tune in on Saturday. (Or, really, a few nights before that, when I fry up a piece in a dry run for Saturday. But that doesn’t have the same ring.)

11:30pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZKwiWy43kmiD
  
Filed under: pork belly confit