Thursday, January 27, 2011

So Much Pork Belly

The pork belly was a Christmas present from our son to his father.  However, after wringing my hands and claiming that two pancettas would feed us the rest of our lives, I did get half the pork belly.  Devious, I know.  Actually, I don't think my husband minded because I told him I had been dying to try braised pork belly.

Our son bought the pork belly, special order, from our local USDA butcher, Woods Meats, aka Wood - (Bar) X Ranch.  We like them: no hormones, no antibiotics, no steroids, locally grown, grass fed all summer, and it can't get more pastoral than Woods.  Once presented to his dad, we cut the pork belly in half, and started the curing process for the pancetta.  Worrier that I am, I wanted to make sure that conditions were as close to pristine as possible, posted earlier on this blog.  Needless to say, it turned out perfect: now I'm afraid to do it again in order to quality for the grand prize at Charcutepalooza.  Plus, that's a lot of pancetta for two people but ah, what we sacrifice for love.

Back to that pork belly.  I have been reading for some time about braised pork belly and when I finally got my hot little hands on that half a pork belly, I knew I wanted something close to heaven.  Perusing the internet, I happened upon Anne Burrell's Crispy Mustard Braised Pork Belly. As "sous-chef" to Mario Batali on Iron Chef America, Food Network's Anne Burrell, with the tight, straight skirts under her chef's jacket, spiked blond hair, and her seemingly lackadaisical but incredibly trained approach to food, offered the braised pork belly recipe of my most decadent dreams.  It had my favorite ingredients, including fennel, onion, and mustard and that was enough to capture my imagination.

The preparations began, and the house smelled like my little bit of heaven for six+ hours.  One of the comments at the recipe's site said "OMG.  Words fail me," and that is exactly how I felt.  I made plain, steamed Viking potatoes, so that they could soak up all that luscious onion/fennel/mustard/pork fat flavor.  In order to cut some of that fat with some acidity I added some sauteed cabbage with the addition of some sauvignon blanc wine.  That helped, but next time I would just make German slaw for both the acidity and the texture.  This time around, it really didn't matter much how I tried to accentuate the main course because on its own it won first place in my heart.

Addendum:  I didn't add as much fennel and onion as I should have.  Fennel, which grow like a weed along the freeways of southern California, where I was raised, is $3 for a an almost dried out bulb.  Highway robbery!  Also, I'm almost out of my own onions so I've been conserving...  it must be the depression influence of my grandma upon me.  But the meat, which cooks like a confit in its own fat, that was the star!

So for anyone ambitious enough to make their own bacon, their own guanciale, their own pancetta, seriously think about braising the other half of that pork belly.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Little Bit of Heaven

I have been wanting some good, very French, very Parisian brioche for months!  Months!   Around Christmas, one of my favorite food bloggers, A Hunger Artist, said he had just made brioche on his Facebook page.  I requested, graciously enough it seems, for the recipe and he obliged me.  Last week I made this unbelievably delicious brioche loaf and have been eating it every day for breakfast. It has been my "little bit of heaven" for a week, but, alas, that week is over.

The crab apple jelly that I spread on the brioche was made by me last fall.  I cannot even believe that I've had a beautiful, bountiful crab apple tree for about fifteen years and never thought to make crab apple jelly....  What was I thinking???  I guess it's because by that time of the year, I have so much harvesting, so many canned good to put up, and so little time on my hands (I teach), that my mind couldn't handle one more chore.  How sad!  Because this is one of the best jellies I have ever tasted!  Right up there with this is chokecherry jelly.  Wow!

So I started off the year with a lovely taste in my mouth and now I have two more taste/cooking goals to keep me busy: Charcutepalooza and Michael Ruhlman's Bread Baking Month.  I had been wanting to do a year with both of these favorite foods and now I have my inspiration. I'm a bit behind on the bread baking, and I may not do every loaf because that is a lot of bread for just two people, so to begin I will try either the Classic Rye Bread with Caraway Seeds or the Ciabatta.

I missed the first Charcuterie challenge, duck prosciutto, but my husband made the same recipe last year so we may or may not try that challenge this year.  We started "curing" our Pancetta before Christmas, and just brought it in the other day.  It looks superb and tastes so much better than anything we ever bought in the stores.  I'll try to post how we are now using the pancetta and what we did with the other half of the pork belly. 

Since dinner utilized some of the pancetta and I am completely satiated, I'll wait until another day to describe that fulfilling dinner.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Need I say more? Of course, that's a lot of pancetta but I'll use it. In the meantime, much of it is frozen in convenient packages.

This was really the brainchild of my husband. He wanted to make pancetta. Since I'm the chef in the family, I had to rain on his parade. I think he deserved that for so often hogging my book, Charcuterie, by Ruhlman and Polcyn.

We followed the recipe in the book exactly. I worried about the humidity, so I quickly ordered a hygrometer and calibrator online. We have a building outside that houses a pool table and some exercise equipment so we decided to use that as our place to hang the pancetta. We set the heat at 55F, and made sure the hygrometer measured around 60% humidity. It hung for two weeks and this is the result.

It's delicious! Luckily we rolled and tied it very tightly so mold did not become a problem. I never knew pancetta could taste even better than what the Italian deli in Spokane has. This is the way to go.