Breaking Down the Fried Pork Belly

Fried Belly Testing

It’s been a crazy weekend of preparing for The Houston Beer Experiment. I’ve been playing around excessively with pork bellies and my new FreshMealsMagic sous vide kit. The event was great and I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with some amazing people and cooks. Furthermore, being in my element cooking and serving up food made me feel alive. It’s quite a great way to spend a Sunday.

My dish, fried pork belly, came in second. While it would’ve been real nice to take home the win and fly to Brooklyn, the whole process of coming up with this dish was a fun thought exercise into cooking.

Anyway, here’s some detail to my second place Fried Pork Beer Belly, explaining why I did what I did.

Step 1: Jaccard

The Jaccard is a device that tenderizes by making rows piercings into the meat. I recall reading a thread on egullet about it a while ago and was intrigued. Pork belly is a fairly tough cut of meat and “jaccarding” it would perhaps make it tenderer. Furthermore, the incisions would help with marinade penetration to give the meat more flavor.

Step 2: Brine

One of the stipulations to the contest was to use a form of beer so I went with hard apple cider in my brine. The rationale – pork and apples go together, as do pork and beer. Why not just use hard apple cider? (Honestly, it might be gimmicky. Regular apple cider might work just as well.) I brined the meat in a 4% brine for 12 hours. I also added 2% of the liquid weight in molasses to add color and to balance out the salt. Lastly, a few drops of liquid smoke were added for good measure.

A brief explanation on why brines work can be found here.

Step 3: Cook at 60C/140F for 50 hours

This step sounds excessive but it’s rather painless. After brining, I placed the pork bellies in Ziploc bags with a splash of apple cider. Everything was then out into a cooler filled with water with my nifty FMM heater to keep it at 60C.

Why 50 hours? Cooking the meat till 60C keeps the lean muscles moist and does make it ok to eat. However, some of the fatty tissues take a little more coaxing to really break down and tenderize. The Modernist Cuisine recommended a 24-72 hour cook time. I’ve sampled sous vide bellies at 12, 24 and 36 hours and the fat still came up a little tough so I just went with 50.

If you can’t afford to do this step, just put a whole bunch of pork bellies in crock pot, fill it up with liquid (water or apple juice is fine) and let it cook on low slightly uncovered. Once it gets to a boil, switch it down to the warm setting and let it ride till it’s soft (6-8 hours). It’ll still be good.

Step 4: Chill

When done with sous vide, remove the pork from the bags and chill, reserving the liquid for the sauce.

Chilling may seem somewhat redundant but it makes life so much easier. Ever handled a piece of warm butter? Warm pork fat feels that way too.

It’s also important to drain any cooking juices before chilling the pork as you want to ensure that the pork pieces are fairly dry on the surface when frying. You’ll thank me later for this. The juices will coagulate around the meat when chilled making them harder to remove.

Step 5: Fry

Along with testing out cooking times, I spent quite a bit of time toying around the frying bit too. I tested a hard cider batter which gave a really good apple aroma. Unfortunately, the batter couldn’t stay crunchy over time, which was not ideal since my dish had to hold for at least 3 hours. As such, I went for the regular dry-wet-dry breading method.

Fat

Corn oil tends to be the most suitable oil for my deep frying purpose. It’s readily available, economical and tastes rather neutral. For some reason, corn oil doesn’t absorb as much into the food once it’s removed from the fryer too.

Dry Coating

The dry coating gives the wet coating and breading something to stick to. I tried corn starch, tapioca flour and all-purpose wheat flour. I liked the results of corn starch the best and tapioca flour the least. But AP flour was readily available in my pantry so that’s what stuck.

Wet Coating

I normally use whole eggs but I found out that beaten egg whites gave a better result. Egg yolks made the final product a more ‘eggy’ and harder product than I would have liked. Beating the egg whites to stiff peaks made for a really fluffy coating. However, it was a nightmare when working with hundreds of pieces of pork belly.

Breadcrumbs

Panko breadcrumbs. That stuff is amazing. It’s crisp and stays crisp. It works so well I didn’t even bother considering an alternative.

Temperature

Since the pork bellies were in small pieces and were already cooked, I fried them at a high temperature of 215C (~420F) for a couple of minutes till golden.

Oh, and when frying, wear pants.

 

Packing Challenge – FAIL

It’s been a while since I’ve had an epic failure in cooking. This one seems to be it.

 

My Charcutepalooza challenge this month was to make a paté of some sort. I opted for the English Pork Pie – ground up meat encased in a flaky pie crust.

 

But I blow at baking pastries. I’m not sure what it is exactly. Maybe I’m too impatient. Maybe it senses my fear. Maybe it knows I don’t like it. Maybe because I don’t practice enough since most pastries tend to be sweet and I’m too much an umami fan boy. Whatever the case, baking has never been an absolute enjoyment to me. As a result, my finished product tends to be ‘meh’ at best, English pork pie notwithstanding.

 

The general directions for the pie crust were simple. Mix in 8oz of cold butter and lard with 1lb of flour. Add in a cup of egg/water mixture.

 

Everything still looked like it could work at this point.

My experience? The dough was way goopy when I started adding the lard. I just used a touch of the egg/water mixture and added a little more flour. It was definitely going to be a flaky dough.

 

As for the meat filling, that was simple. I’m good with working with meats most of the time anyway. (I’m an umami fan boy remember?) There isn’t too much too write about this, it’s fairly similar to the sausage making process.

 

Before the bake... this could still work...

The problem came with the baking.

 

You see, flaky crust may taste great in a cobbler. But when it’s supposed to provide ‘structural support’ to keep a meat filling in, it’s quite A FAIL. Throw that in with a really juicy meat filling and things go to crap fairly quickly.

 

Things going to crap. The crust cracked resulting in a lot of juices going all over the pan. That in turn led to really wet and soggy crust. Not a good thing.

So this attempt at cooking something didn’t go according to plan. I’m a little upset. Then again, it’s in the failures that we learn. It’s cliché, I know, but I truly believe that.

It still looks half decent thanks to staging work. Meat tastes delicious though, as fatty pork shoulder always should.

 

Making a Cheap Cut Look Posh – The Very Affordable Ham Hock Terrine

Pork Hock Terrine

Pork hocks. I love them. They’re a delight to stew them with beans, slow cooked vegetables such as collard greens, or one of my favorite, stewed and then fried. Plus they’re ridiculously cheap. Pork tenderloins at the local farmer’s market will probably set you back $18-20/lb. Pork hocks, $2/lb. It’s cheap. I’m cheap. I’ll take it.

While I do favor the rustic preparations of pork hocks, there are ways to make them look more posh. In this case, I made a terrine. It doesn’t mean I like them better, they just look more presentable and perhaps palatable to some. Rather than gnaw on the bone, one can elegantly eat it with a fork and knife.

If you didn’t grow up with exposure to European food, chances are, the idea of a terrine may seem a little foreign. Heck, every single one of my friends didn’t really have a clue what I was talking about when I was talking about making them. (I live in Texas.) The definition may even seem complicated since they fall into broad categories. Generally, as per Ruhlman and Polcyn, it’s a big sausage cooked in a mold, dough or skin. In my instance, it’s shredded meat set in gelatin.

Back to pork hocks. Pork hocks are delicious. Pork hocks are also fatty and rich in connective tissues. This makes them ideal for releasing rich gelatinous goodness which is necessary in making some terrines. And so the process is simple – boil the hocks long enough to extract the gelatin into a flavorful stock called an aspic. Pull and shred the meat of the pork hocks. Set the meat in a pan. Pour on the aspic over. Put it in a fridge to set. Remove, cut it, and eat.

Alright, that’s simple in theory but in reality, there are a few more details. Let’s get into them shall we?

Let’s start with the stock/the braise of the hocks. I’m using some real simple aromatics here, just the usual carrots, onions, celery, garlic, bay leaf and pepper. Here’s my MEP (MEP = mise en place, which is just a fancy way of saying preparing your ingredients and having them in place before putting them together. Using the term mise en place makes you sounds like you’re a foodie. Saying mise makes you sound kinda bad-ass cool. Shortening that to MEP just means you’re too lazy to type.)

The aromatics portion of the MEP

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 Pork Hocks

2 Onions, quartered

2 carrots

2 sticks of celery

1 Tbsp of peppercorns

1 Bay leaf

2 cloves of garlic

1 sprig of thyme

water (guesstimate this)

3/4 oz of gelatin

1 cup of parsley leaves

Salt to taste

The hocks are ready for braising. That chunk of ice on the bottom left is from the chicken stock I threw in.

1. Put the hocks and aromatics into a pot and fill it with water. That chunk of ice you see there is from a little chicken stock I added for good measure. I was making room in my freezer. Bring everything to a simmer and simmer. I just left mine in a 160F to 200F (I changed the temperature) oven for a few hours overnight because I was sleepy. Overnight seems long and it probably is. Gelatin breaks down with prolonged cooking. But I had powdered gelatin to work with, not a problem.Next, remove the hocks, cool them down and then shred. I like large chunks. Put aside any fatty parts and tendons aside. Discard or eat them. (I roasted the bones and the tendons and ate them. Not the whole bone mind you, just the marrow.)

Straining the stock. I guess there was about 3 qt of liquid, way more than enough for my needs.

2. Strain the liquid at least twice. Four times is better.

The hock meat is ready for some aspic. Note that the meat fibers are all facing one direction. This allows for easier cutting and eating when served.

3. Mix the shredded meat with some chopped parsley and salt. Ideally, season the meat when it’s cool since the terrine will be served cold. The human tongue tends to be less sensitive to seasoning when eating cold foods. Pack the meat into a mold such as a terrine. I don’t have a terrine (it’s a container) so I used a bread pan.

Testing the aspic. I'm using a shot glass in an ice bath with salt. I tested with 1/4 oz of gelatin at a time. I didn't want the terrine to be too rigid.

4. In the mean time, mix in some gelatin with the aspic. Test the aspic by putting it on a cold dish or a bowl set on ice. (I used a shot glass.) It should be firm enough to cut but soft enough that it almost melts in the mouth.

5. Pour the aspic over the meat mixture. Place a plastic wrap over and place in the fridge to set overnight.

Terrine ready to be sliced. It's jiggly.

6.Remove the terrine from the pan. If there’s any difficulty, place the pan in some warm water to melt some of the gelatin until it slides right out. Then slice the darn thing to eat. (If it’s hard to slice, put it in the fridge or freezer for just a little longer to firm up.

7. Serve cold with some kind of acidic sauce to cut the richness of the terrine. Here, I’m using a raisin & onion chutney courtesy taken from Charcuterie.

Back At It Again – Canadian Bacon

April’s Charcutepalooza challenge was hot smoking pork loin or pork shoulder, to make Canadian bacon or taso ham. I went with Canadian bacon.

WTF is Canadian bacon?

Also known as back bacon, it’s bacon made from center-cut boneless pork loin. What we usually get at grocery stores is streaky bacon, made from pork belly. The curing process of both bacons is generally rather similar. First off, the meat is cured in a salt and spice mixture or a brine for a few days. The meat is then rinsed off, left to dry a little and then smoked.

WTF is Hot Smoking?

Generally, there are three kinds of smoking and they are mainly differentiated by the temperature. This is what I picked up in reading up from books and the Internet (especially Wikipedia).

My Old Smokey electric smoker. Easy, convenient and cheap off craigslist

Cold smoking occurs below 100F. It imparts flavor but doesn’t cook the food.

Hot smoking occurs between 165-185F. It cooks the food (duh).

Smoke roasting is pretty much like roasting but with smoke. It can go in access of 250F

And of course, we can vary the characteristic of the smoke with not just the temperature but also the type of wood being used.

Making Canadian Bacon

The process, as mentioned, involved salting, drying and smoking.

I was actually a little excited for this project because after months of anticipation, a certain grocery storejust opened up in my neighborhood.

I would give a review of Revival Market but so much has already been done and I probably wouldn’t do it any justice with my words. All I can say is that if you’re in Houston, just go.

This project would mark my first purchase from the store, and what more appropriate an item than some pork.

Pork loin all ready to be smoked

Now back to the making of the bacon. As with my Charcuterie projects so far, I adapted the recipe from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie. I brined the pork loin for 3 days. Nothing new here since I’ve talked about brining before. Then I dried it in my fridge for a day. Then I smoked it with apple wood in my electric smoker. Sounds easy? Good, because it is.

WTF do you do with Canadian Bacon

Eggs Benedict from 'scratch'


I guess the most common application would be Eggs Benedict. It’s just a combination of things you know will go well together – English muffins, poached eggs, Canadian bacon, and Hollandaise sauce. A basic recipe and video can be found on the Culinary Institute of America’s website here.

What’s cool about Eggs Benedict is it’s fairly simple to make. Plus it looks elegant and impressive. At the same time, with so many components, going through the exercise of making one can be a great way to work on technique –making a dough, poaching an egg and making a hollandaise sauce.

Oh by the way, here’s a tip when poaching eggs to make them look good without flyaway whites – drain the thinner whites off. You could do that with a slotted spoon or a strainer.

Poached duck eggs. The egg on the left was cracked into the poaching liquid. The egg on the right was first strained to get rid of the looser whites (although I went a little overboard this time around)

Of course, eggs Benedict isn’t the only application for Canadian bacon. You could treat it like regular bacon in an English breakfast, use it in a fried rice, or even a pizza.

And to show you the versatility of Canadian Bacon, here’s one thing I did. I used it in laksa. Wait, what?

(Laksa is one of my favorite dishes from Singapore. It’s noodles in a thick and spicy coconut broth. )

Simply poach the Canadian bacon and add on top as a garnish.  Too much of a good thing? Nah, not too much yet.

Laksa with... Canadian Bacon

How to Entice Your Friends to Eat Pork Fat

Pork fat. For most food nerds, that’s conjures a strange response within. Like Pavlov’s dogs hearing a bell ring, your eyes widen, your heart skips a beat, and your mouth salivates for no reason other than the revered deliciousness of an oft so disdained and discarded ‘by-product’ of the ‘other white meat’.

For the ill-advised, pork fat is evil. Pork fat is fattening. Pork fat is unhealthy. Pork fat is gross.

Pork isn’t meant to be white meat. Pork fat isn’t meant to be discarded. In fact, pigs were raised for their fat not too long ago. But somewhere along the way, somebody decided that consuming animal fat equals bad, an evilness that has led creative ways of creating substitutes for a product our body inherently craves. Substitute that with “healthier” trans-fats, artificial sweeteners and factory farmed chicken breast and we realize that maybe something’s gone wrong somewhere.

And so here begs my duty – bring back the glory of pork fat.

Continue reading “How to Entice Your Friends to Eat Pork Fat”