Friday, July 9, 2010

Sunday Cookbook Adventures: Ad Hoc Pork Belly Confit

Since first cracking open Momofuku, I've cooked my share of pork belly. I like David Chang's slow-cooked-in-the-oven method, which he notes is similar to a confit, since the pork belly bastes itself with its own rendered fat as it slowly cooks. I love Thomas Keller's sous vide method, with the beautiful flavor of the brined pork and the meltingly tender meat that results. Not content to stop at two solid techniques, though, I decided to check out Thomas Keller's Pork Belly Confit recipe from Ad Hoc at Home.
As a reference point, keep in mind that the finished product should look like this:
As with the mind-blowing fried chicken, the pork belly recipe starts with a brine. (Conveniently, Keller didn't trick me into making two gallons of brine this time...) The ingredients include honey, salt, parsley, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, black peppercorns, and garlic.
The pork brines overnight...
... then is rinsed with cool water and allowed to dry, in preparation for cooking in a big vat of pork fat...
I bought three bricks of lard in which to cook my pork belly.
It was just barely enough to cover, but that's partially my fault. I have yet to track down a source for a big solid slab of pork belly, so I've been using pre-sliced pork belly from H-Mart. I think a solid chunk would have worked better (particularly in one of the steps below), but this worked out reasonably well.
My one complaint with the recipe is that Keller asks me to use skin-on pork belly, then remove the skin after cooking in the 200°F fat for 5 or 6 hours then chilling overnight. A fair amount of the top layer of fat came off on the skin (being more attached to the skin than to the layer of meat below) and this could have been avoided if I just used skinless pork belly... Things were looking pretty nasty at this point in the cooking:
I sliced the pork into squares so that it would look like Keller's picture above when it finished... (Still looking pretty gross...)
The cubes of pork belly sear fat-side-down for 15 minutes or so, then go into a 350°F oven to finish heating through.
A mistake I made was compressing the pork belly while it cools following cooking. Keller recommends this step, but when you're using strips of pork belly rather than one big hunk, it results in the top fat layers being pushed askew. I think I also should have trimmed the strips to be uniform thickness, which may have somewhat mitigated the compressing fiasco. Finally, as I mentioned above, I would use skinless pork belly next time for sure. All that being said, the end result tasted amazing and, plated up with a little broccoli rabe, it didn't look half bad, especially considering how things looked along the way.
The brine was beautiful, and every bite was an explosion of flavor. Despite cooking in a vat of lard, the end result isn't greasy at all, with much of the pork belly's fat having rendered out. I think I still prefer the sous vide method, and I suspect that my next batch of pork belly will involve this brine, followed by vacuum-sealing the pork belly with just enough lard to surround it, then cooking sous vide for 12 hours. That should give all of the flavor of this dish without the giant vat of lard to clean up. I could live without the giant vat of lard. I'd say that this dish ended up a success, but with a bit more aggravation along the way than was strictly necessary. With a few good lessons learned and a delicious dinner at the end of the day, though, it's hard to complain too much...


seehori1 said...

Hi there, great blog. How did you remove the skin? I have a slab and am going to cook. Would you recommend removing the skin before the cooking in the lard? Or after as he states. Think slicing knife?

emmo said...

Hi Seehori1,

I did as Thomas Keller instructed when I made the recipe, but I found that too much fat stuck to the skin when I removed it after cooking... I think next time I might remove it before cooking (with a thin sharp knife... I usually use my flexible boning knife for this type of thing...) just to make it easier. Either way, it will be delicious. =)