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Lush and fatty, this cut is best known for bacon (smoked) but is increasingly valued as fresh belly, which is usually braised or boiled before browning. Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill restaurant, cures his pork belly for 3 days before oven-braising it at low heat overnight, then cutting and searing it. This is a lengthy process but worth the trouble. I use his wonderful Salt and Spice Cure to flavor lots of different cuts of meat in addition to this one. I’ve adapted his recipe here for a smaller belly portion. Mashed potatoes, mashed Jerusalem artichokes or sweet potatoes all make fine accompaniments to this dish.
1 1/2 pounds pastured pork belly
4 to 5 tbsp Salt and Spice Cure (below)
2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
Combine all the ingredients for the Salt and Spice Cure (below) in an electric spice grinder and process into a powder. (This makes about 7 tablespoons. You can store the leftovers in an airtight jar, away from heat and light.)
Blot the meat dry. Rub it on all sides with the spice mixture and put it in an airtight refrigerator container that will hold it flat. Refrigerate the spiced meat for 3 days. On the third day, at least 6 hours before (if not the day before) you need to serve the dish, heat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the pork belly in a Dutch oven or gratin dish as close to the size of meat as possible. Pour the chicken stock over the meat (it should cover it — if it does not, add water to cover). Place a tight-fitting lid on the pan. If the pan doesn’t have a lid or the lid is loose, make an airtight cover using foil. Braise the pork belly for 6 to 8 hours or overnight, until the meat is completely tender and has a texture similar to pot roast.
Remove the meat from the pan and drain it of braising liquid. Heat a cast-iron frying pan over medium heat. Cut the pork belly into serving pieces 3 or 4 inches in size and sear each piece, fat side down, until it is crisp and browned. Gently sear all the other sides of the meat as well, so that it is warmed through. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Salt and Spice Cure
1 tbsp fennel pollen or fennel seeds (or ground fennel seeds)
1 tbsp cumin seeds (or ground cumin)
1 tsp coriander seeds (or ground coriander)
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns (or ground pepper)
1 star anise (or 1/4 tsp ground)
1/2 cinnamon stick (or 1 tbsp ground)
1 whole clove (or 1/4 tsp ground)
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
2 tbsp sugar
More meat: Read All You Need to Know to Eat Good, Grass-Fed Meat to learn how to choose and use inexpensive cuts of pastured meat. For more great recipes, check out Flank Steak Marinade With Maple and Soy Glaze Recipe and Roasted Cardamom, Oregano and Garlic Chicken Thighs Recipe.
Illustration by Elizabeth Krasner
This recipe has been excerpted with permission from Good Meat by Deborah Krasner.