Sunday, November 16, 2008

Belly laughs...

My second Land of Plenty recipe is a recipe for "salt-fried pork". This recipe's important to me, because it's the first dish I've ever made that uses pork belly as an ingredient.

As a properly hip food guy, I know that pork belly is a kind of cool ingredient, popping up in cookbooks, and on menus from places like Momofuku and even the local Jujube. For such a hip ingredient, though, if you limit your shopping to "regular" markets like Lowe's, Harris Teeter and the like, you'll never find pork belly.
It's in that "ethnic" ghetto, where other meats that don't conform to the generic grocery vision live (like liver, or veal breast, or even lamb for the most part). To get something like pork belly, you have to go over to the asian market side of things (although, having never been to an ethnic market that wasn't asian, I can't say if you could find pork belly in a hispanic market, for example). Regardless of where you find it, I think of pork belly as "uncured bacon" or "streak o' lean". The belly I bought just looked like slab bacon (but differently colored, since it wasn't cured), and it had the skin still attached (perfect for cracklings, I guess. I wonder if chinese cooking has those?).

Enough belly talk. My recipe today was salt-fried pork, and it was described in the book as being a very "homestyle" recipe. I don't know enough about homestyle chinese cooking, but it was easy, and the flavors were definitely basic. I was just looking for a pork belly recipe that didn't take a lot of work, since I've had a busy week, and I wanted to be able to bang something out relatively quickly for dinner.

My mis-en-place:

Salt-fried pork
1/2 lb boneless pork belly, sliced into thin 2x3in slices
2-3 baby leeks or 5 scallions, white and green parts
peanut oil
salt to taste
1 1/2 tbsp Sichuanese chili-bean paste
1 1/2 tbsp fermented black beans
1 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar

Heat 3 tbsp oil in a wok or large pan until hot, but not smoking. Add pork and stir-fry briskly for 3-4 minutes, until oil has cleared and pork has lost most of its water content. Add 1/8 tsp of salt halfway thru cooking. Push pork to one side of pa, and tilt pan/wok until oil runs into the space cleared. Drop chili bean paste and black beans into oil and stir-fry for 30 secs until oil is red and fragrant. Mix in pork slices, add soy and sugar, and throw in leeks/scallions. Stir fry until leeks/scallions are just cooked.
Serve over rice.

Of the ingredients, the chili-bean paste is your typical "hot chili deal", but I thought the black beans were pretty unique. I made sure to taste some before I started cooking, and I guess I'd describe them as salty beans with a complex chocolaty flavor. It's hard to nail down, but they're definitely a special flavor. Overall, it was a good quick meal. The girls looked at it in their usual skeptical way, but I thought it was tasty. The leftovers are definitely going to make it to lunch this week. There are a ton (ok, more than a few) pork belly recipes in the book, so this won't be the last time I cook belly, and I'm looking forward to trying other recipes. Once you get past the "belly" name, it's just a fatty cut of meat, and lord knows, things like shank, oxtails, short-ribs and what-not may look or sound gross, but they're all really really good eating, so there's no reason why belly can't slide into that repertoire.

Music to cook by tonight:
Spoon's "The book I write":

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