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Big Belly

August 9, 2011

Always call ahead. This lesson somehow never manages to sink in. Just recently at the end of my two-week vacation in rural Pennsylvania I drove forty minutes for a mango lassi only to find the restaurant had recently gone out of business.

And really the lesson should have been fresh in my mind, because I made a special trip before leaving for vacation to Adventure In Food Trading. I had grass fed skirt steak on the mind, but they were fresh out.

The skirt steak is an incredibly reasonable cut of meat to buy wholesale because it comes in easy-to-use two-pound packages, much like the grass fed flank steaks. It’s not like buying a thirty-two pound beef shoulder. If I came home with something like that, I’d be sleeping on the couch.

As it turns out, bringing home an eight-pound Berkshire pork belly wasn’t seen as so reasonable either. But after treating the family to an Albany-Jane-inspired dish, I’ve changed a few minds.

Before I start, let me tell you something about this meat.

This is no ordinary pork. It’s been called the Wagyu of pigs. Berkshire pork doesn’t come from pigs that live on the mountain range to our east. No. Berkshire is a heritage breed of pig. That means this pig has papers. It has been bred over 300 years for its marbling and flavor. But while they hail from England and are big in Japan, they are also raised on U.S. soil.

These pigs are not part of the mass-market meat machine that drives me away from supermarket pork. This isn’t meat that is grown quickly and pumped up with drugs and hormones. There are no subtherapeutic antibiotics in the feed of these delicious animals.

Sure, you could get happier versions of these animals from smaller producers, but still, this is a giant step up from conventional meat.

My first job was to portion the meat. Thanks to my generous friend LH I am well equipped with a vacuum sealer and plenty of bags. Given that Raf has spent more time cutting up large chunks of meat than I have, I called him for a consult. He suggested squaring the whole thing off, grinding the trim, and cutting rectangles. It was quick work to cut down the beast into several packages ranging from eight ounces to twenty-four ounces each.

The plan was that some pieces could be ground up for dumplings. Other pieces were destined for the bean pot come winter. But the first few fresh pieces were going to be slathered in a sweet and salty marinade inspired by Albany Jane on their way to becoming Char Siu.

What’s funny about that is that Albany Jane and I rarely like the same things. It’s a miracle we get along and don’t tear each other’s eyes out. But at least we can see eye to eye on meat candy.

I did choose to add a bit of five spice powder to her recipe, and used a combination of rice vinegar and dry vermouth. Plus I sealed the pork with the marinade in a vacuum bag and marinated the heck out of it for about 24 hours. That went on a foil-lined pan in an 350 degree oven for an hour and change, and it was incredible.

The meat was sliced and served with lettuce cups, bean thread noodles and hoisin sauce. The family devoured it, fatty bits and all.

Honestly, it may be challenging not to turn every portion of that belly into Char Siu.

At first my concern was how are we ever going to go through eight pounds of pork belly. But now I find myself concerned with the potential ramifications of eating such rich foods with reckless abandon. Most notably, as the pork belly in the freezer grows smaller, there is another belly nearby that is getting significantly bigger.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Raf permalink
    August 9, 2011 5:36 pm

    I did not suggest grinding the trimmed bits. I told you to make them into salt pork.

    • August 9, 2011 7:11 pm

      That’s right. As it turned out, I neither made salt pork nor ground the trimmings. Ultimately I decided the belly was rectangular enough and skipped squaring it off entirely. Regards, talking with Raf was a great comfort, even if I took none of his advice and totally forgot what he said.

  2. August 11, 2011 8:55 pm

    Mmmm, I love me some pork belly but I’ve never prepared it myself. I think that needs to change.

    I did have some enjoyable pork belly recently at Maestro’s. (AKA, one of the best restaurants in Saratoga right now.)

  3. August 12, 2011 10:38 am

    Raf, salt pork recipe, please?

    You are far too kind, Daniel. This recipe is so ready & versatile that it’s easy to doctor up as one sees fit.

    For those scared of the belly, be not afraid, the belly loves you.

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