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.