Sunday, November 16, 2014

Footloose - Braised (Salt) Pork (Belly)

I had two more weekend shelters recently - that's five total in case you were counting, and that's two trips to Orlando and all that jazz, so I had to fill up my car.  There is a Wawa on Orange Avenue, and when I stopped, music both in and outside was blaring:

Now I gotta cut loose, footloose
Kick off the Sunday shoes

Please, Louise, pull me off of my knees
Jack, get Mack, come on before we crack
Lose your blues, everybody cut footloose

... and THAT brought me to the salt pork soaking in my fridge. 

Doesn't that look like bacon? (Get it, Bacon?)

Anyway, these are those two pieces of Smithfield salt pork, that I picked up yesterday at the Spanish grocery.  I did not remove the skin this time, but I did make shallow crosshatch cuts across the top.  Then I soaked these in just-plain-cold water for 24 hours, changing the water a total of 4 times.  Each time I changed the water, I rinsed out the container and dried the inside to get out as much lingering salt as possible.  I also rinsed and patted dry each piece of pork before placing it in the fresh water.

At this point, I would have liked to slice off a small piece and fry it off so I could taste it for saltiness, but I came home from court to a complete dearth of electricity.  Robert reports that there was a very big boom and the house went dark.  KUA was on the job almost immediately, as you can see from my kitchen window,  but there was another loud boom and we are still dark.

Honestly, if a 24 hour salt-leaching soak hasn't worked by now, I'm declaring this experiment a failure.  I never really did go to Hogwarts anyway, and just because some people have called me a witch at various times in the past doesn't make me so.  So it's time to get on with the penultimate step,  the dry rub, so it will be ready for some nice braising in the near future (assuming KUA is successful, otherwise, no slow cooker, no oven, no nuthin').

I wanted a salt-free rub, so I hit the cookbooks, and came up with this slight variation of Steven Raichlin's salt-free lemonade chili rub.  He writes that he got the recipe from "Kansas City barbecue guru Paul Kirk."  I'm glad he did.

Oven-Braised Salt Pork Belly

2 nice pieces of salt pork, about 3/4 pound each (I used Smithfield brand, which I found in the Spanish grocery.  Publix carries Hormel brand salt pork in what looks to be 1/2 pound pieces)

Salt-Free Dry Rub: 
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons paprika
1 individual packet Crystal Light pink lemonade powder   
1/2 tablespoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Use a fork or a small whisk to mix this together.  Use 1/4 cup for each top and bottom of the pork.  Pat the rub into the pork, and used any extra to cover the sides.  Place in a dry container, covered, in the refrigerator for 2 hours.  Remove the pork and with dry paper towels, brush off all of the excess rub.  Discard the used rub.  Dry off the pork as best you can.

In a large deep skillet, heat a small amount of olive oil, to just cover the bottom, over medium high heat.  carefully add the pork, skin side down.  It is going to spatter like nobody's business, so use the longest set of tongs you have when turning the meat, and stand as far from the stove as you can. Also keep your cooking hand covered with an oven mitt or a kitchen towel to avoid splatter burns.

When the pork is well-browned on both sides, remove to a 9 x 13 baking pan.  Do not discard the fat in the pan.  Prepare the braising liquid.

Braising Liquid:
1 onion (or 1/2 large sweet onion)
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 medium apples, unpeeled, cut into thick slices or into wedges
2 cups apple cider

In the same pan in which you fried the pork, add the onion and sauté a few minutes.  Add the garlic, thyme, rosemary, and black pepper.  Continue sautéing until the onion begins to show brown edges.  Add the apple slices and cook just 5 minutes, then add the apple cider and stir everything together with a wooden spoon, while scraping up any good stuff on the bottom of the pan.  Bring up to a boil, lower the heat and simmer while you set up the pork for the oven.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  With a slotted spoon, remove the apple slices from the braising liquid, and place around the pork.  Then carefully pour the sauce over the pork, gently pushing the cooked onions back into the sauce.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil, sealing it tightly.  Place in the oven to cook for a total of 2 1/2 hours, turning the pork skin-side down after 2 hours.  Then remove the pan from the oven, and allow the pork to cool enough to handle.  Use the tongs to grasp the sides of the pork, remove it  from the braising liquid, and place the pieces in a clean pan.  Carefully remove the skin from each piece.  Place the pan with the braising sauce into the refrigerator or freezer until the fat hardens enough to be removed.  While that is going on, sear the top of each piece in a very hot pan.  

Serving options:  I cut each piece of pork belly into 3 or 4 squares, and placed them into a baking dish with the apple braising liquid.  I had added some more apple cider to the liquid, since it seems to have picked up some of the salt lingering in the pork.  The entire dish can be reheated, or just one portion at a time.

And I am STILL not completely satisfied.  Next time, I take the skin off at the beginning.  Having said that, this was so delicious.  It gives new meaning to the phrase "meltingly tender."

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