|Pork Belly Sandwich|
|Right Food for the Season - Late Winter|
|Written by Jon Ross-Wiley|
I have wrestled for days with how to describe this sandwich to you. It's just that good. Perhaps the process of how it came to be will take care of that for me. Whenever I find myself in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, I have one mandatory stop; Savenor's. Savenor's is a small specialty grocery store that is packed with some of the finest foods in the area. From cheeses, to spices, to meats, to chocolates...Savenor's has it. It's the kind of place you shop when you want to impress guests or when you simply want to treat yourself to a transcendent meal. I suppose I am selfish because, more often than not, I choose the latter reason for stopping into the shop. Among my other purchases, one item that usually ends up in my basket these days is pork belly. Savenor's carries beautifully butchered portions of pork belly (sustainably raised in Vermont), and thus has become my "go-to" spot for this decadent cut.
Now, what to do with it once it's home? My favorite thing to do with it is to prepare it confit, let it "set" overnight, and then eat a small portion at a time after first reheating and pan-searing it in duck fat (see Jon's Pork Rib Confit recipe here for a similar prep). That's my favorite. I recognize, however, that, as is the case with bacon (which comes from the pork belly cut), you must eat it in moderation. There is another preparation, though, that works equally well and is a healthier version of the above. It's a braise. Braising the pork belly and finishing it in the broiler helps reduce the use of fat. Pork belly's richness comes from its own fat, therefore additional fat is not necessary when preparing it. (But, boy, does it taste good!) Whether you choose to cook the pork confit or braise it, you will ultimately need a delivery method. As I mentioned, you only need a little to feel satisfied, so it is a nice a addition to a plate of lighter fare. But, lighter fare is not really my thing. Enter, the sandwich.
1 lb. pork belly, skin on
1 cup apple cider
1/2 chicken stock
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp. olive oil
Bread and butter pickle slices/chips or sweet relish
Mix together salt and pepper and rub into the pork belly. Cover and leave in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Preheat your oven to 350˚F. Place a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, sear the pork on all sides. Next, place the pork in a braising dish (a Pyrex dish, a cast-iron Le Creuset, etc. will work just fine) skin/fat-side up. Add cider, chicken stock, thyme, and bay leaf to the dish making sure that approximately half of the pork is above the liquid (you may need more or less liquid, so feel free to add or subtract the stock and cider in equal parts). Cover. Covering the dish is key as the combination of dry heat (searing) and the moist heat (braising) are essential to the success of the dish. Place dish in the oven and let the pork cook for 1 hour. After the hour, add another cup of chicken stock and let the pork cook for an additional hour and a half or until the pork is tender enough to cut with a fork. Remove from the oven, remove the skin (you may need to use a knife to remove "stubborn" sections), and allow the pork to cool (room temperature) in the braising liquid. Remove pork from the braising liquid and transfer, fat side up, to a broiling pan. Place the the pan 6-8 inches from the broiler and brown the fat until crispy.
Remove pork from the broiler and place on a cutting board. Roughly chop the the pork...there's no science to this part. Pile a "healthy" portion of the pork onto toasted bread (I happened to have a nice olive oil, rosemary bread on hand) and top with bread and butter pickles/relish and yellow mustard.