Bacon’s More Sophisticated Cousin
Live well and COOK PORK! -JackBraised meats aren’t usually thought of when pondering Asian cuisine. Braising is generally associated with the French in dishes such as Boeuf Bourguignon, or American Pot Roasts. This is a fool-hardy assumption, however. Enter the Japanese preparation and staple of any ramen-ya worth its weight in rice, braised pork belly, or Chashu. Yet another adaptation of a Chinese dish, char siu, chashu has become something else entirely. While char siu usually refers to a roasted meat glazed with honey and soy (and added red food coloring in some cases) the Japanese took most of the same ingredients, turned it into a braise, and added their own flair with the addition of mirin and sake. Also, the Chinese use the term “char siu” to refer to any number of meats roasted in the same manner, for the Japanese however, chashu is made with pork belly. Nothing else. We can get behind that. The recipe that follows is a cross-reference between two other recipes I found and my own added spin here and there. The process is fairly long, as with most braises, but the ingredients are pretty cheap and simple. The differences in my recipe and the ones I referenced are these: One recipe called for rolling the belly, which is traditional, and the other did not. I went with the flat preparation. While rolling the belly takes longer to cook it comes out juicier, or so I hear, but that can be solved by simply cutting down on the oven time and keeping vigilant watch. There was, however, the issue of the skin. It likes to be cooked for a LONG time, which would make the rolled method more logical. I soldiered on with my plan though. The rolled recipe also called for skin on (or rind on) pork belly, while the other called for skin off. This suggestion I did follow. The flat prep recipe said to sear all sides and blanch the meat before braising while the other said to roll it and go. I seared, only the meat side, and did not blanch. I left the skin un-seared, and blanching after searing would inevitably wash away some of the brown color the sear provided. Color = flavor, a fundamental philosophy in all of cooking, so blanching after searing just seemed like a bad idea to me. That recipe was from a very highly respected chef, though, so what the hell do I know. One recipe also called for the addition of typically Chinese or South-East Asian spices like cinnamon, star anise and black peppercorns. This, too, I followed, predictably. Perhaps just as predictably the fish sauce was my addition. Had to be done. There was no way around it. It was for the benefit of science and all mankind, you see. I expected the skin to be tough and un-chewable but I was wrong. Very wrong! It was gooey and sticky and gelatinous, and provided a very interesting contrast in texture to the supple fat and the chewy yet melting to the tooth meat. Next time I try this I’m going to try one of the suggestions I shied away from this run just to see the difference. But for now, I’m satisfied with these results. It was good. It was really good. It was really fucking good! This is going to be a picture heavy post, so those of you who are easily offended by unadulterated and unapologetic food porn may wish to close this window now or just fuck off from the room. It’s about to get real up in this bitch. Chashu, Japanese braised pork belly. The ingredients: 2-2.5 pounds raw Pork Belly – uncured, not smoked, rind on 1 cup Mirin 1 bottle (300 ml) Hakutsuru Draft sake ½ cup of Honey 1 ½ cups Soy Sauce (Yamasa brand is my preference) 3” knob of fresh Ginger – peeled and crushed 1 Star Anise 1 stick of Cinnamon 1 tsp. Black Peppercorns 5 cloves of Garlic 6 cleaned and chopped Scallions 3 Tbsp. Red Boat Fish Sauce Kadoya Sesame oil Light Vegetable or Olive oil (No extra virgin!) Procedure: Preheat oven to 275 degrees, 250 if it wil go that low. Oil a pan with the light veggie oil and heat until just starting to smoke. Sear the meat side of the pork belly until golden brown. Set aside. Add a little bit of sesame oil and toast the dry spices (anise, cinnamon and black pepper) until aromatic, about 90 seconds. Add the crushed ginger and sauté for a few seconds, then add the garlic whole and stir fry for a few more seconds. When the garlic is just starting to take on a bit of color deglaze with the sake and mirin. Reduce by about half, we're really just looking to burn off the alcohol. Once reduced add the soy sauce, honey, scallions and fish sauce and bring back to a simmer. Place your pork belly skin side down in a deep and tight fitting oven-proof container and cover with the hot liquid. Cover loosely and place in the oven for 2 hours. Check on it at this point, the point of a paring knife should sink through to the bottom of the pan with little resistance. Once it’s finished, pull it out of the oven and place it in the refrigerator, still covered in its braising liquid, until fully chilled. What will emerge is a slightly gelatinous liquid and pork belly that is much easier to slice into serving sized portions. If one were to slice it hot one would end up with a mess of basically pulled pork belly. Decidedly NOT what we are looking for here. Slice into 3 or 4 blocks through the narrower width (if it was whole this would be the length of the belly) and then into ½ to ¼ inch slices against the grain of the meat at the time of service. To reheat there are a few methods you could take. You could thicken the liquid with cornstarch and use it to glaze the slices in the oven or in a steamer until heated through. Or you could simply drop the slices in some simmering soup and pour that over some ramen. If you own a brulee torch you could char it slightly, which is certainly the most dramatic approach. Or you could do what I did. I placed the slices on a broiler plate, covered it with its braising liquid and put it in the broiler until it started to audibly pop. The popping is from the skin that was left on. At this point I pulled it from the boiler, basted the slices with the liquid in the pan, and put them back under the broiler, repeating this a few times until the slices were nicely browned. Serving suggestions for this are myriad. As already stated, this is a classic topping for ramen, but Chef Takashi out here in Chicago serves it with steamed buns. Hell, you could just shove it in your slavering maw straight outa the broiler! By this point it’s been long enough in the making that any delivery method would be simply that. Just a means to get that unctuous pig belly into your impatiently awaiting face! The braising liquid in and of itself is a thing of beauty! Use it to season soup broth, as a pig infused marinade, as a fucking beverage! Seriously, its used to marinade the soft boiled, runny yolk but firm white eggs that are also a staple ramen topping! I REALLY hope you guys try this, time investment be damned! Just like most braises, this one just gets better if left in the fridge for a couple days before serving. Which means you can make it well in advance and be the fucking hero of any dinner party! All the work having been done the day before, and being better for the aging, leaves you to focus on other things that might need to be done at the last minute. The pork belly will wait. It’s patient like that. This is a seriously good accompaniment to just about any vaguely Asian inspired menu. You will be in love. You will want to pour the liquid in your eyes.You will want to rub the meat all over your body to attract a mate. And if they are repulsed by it, fuck them! They aren’t good enough for you anyway if they don’t like perfume of pork fat, ginger and soy sauce!