Updated Pork Belly

It’s time for another round of pork belly!  My favorite food returns again this fall.  I think it must be the season that inspires me to braise meats and eat rich, filling food, because I think it was last year, right around fall as well, that I cooked my first pork belly.  I have a bit more experience under my belt now though, and I wanted to share my latest affairs with pork belly, in the form of a recent dish that I’ve made and as I had it as a local, Charlottesville restaurant recently.

I finally returned to Brookville for dinner, and I experienced head chef Harrison Keevil’s take on pork belly.  It was a magnificent, grilled slab of rich belly atop a creamy plate of grits with a perfectly-runny egg on the side.  I don’t think I can do it any more justice with description, so here’s a picture:

I was inspired to make my own pork belly dish, and I braised fresh belly from the Rock Barn which I picked up at the farmer’s market in my new favorite drink: hard apple cider.  Just this fall, I’ve discovered that along with a notable wine culture, Virginia, and Charlottesville in particular, has a crop of its own, great cideries.  I suppose this is only fitting though, because apples are a classically-Virginian crop, coming all the way from Thomas Jefferson’s time when he grew a variety of apples just up the road at Monticello.

Any sort of alcohol makes a great liquid to braise meat in because it helps to break down and tenderize the meat more so than plain stock or water would.  I also chose hard cider because it has a great, sweet taste with the perfect little bit of acidity to help brighten up a heavy dish of pork.  Apple cider will most certainly appear in later posts as I sample the different varieties available in Charlottesville, but I wanted to mention that the brand I chose to braise with is called Bold Rock Cider from Nellysford, Virginia.

Alright, that’s enough about cider!  Now back to the pork: I braised it along with some winter squash, onion, and apple in apple cider with spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, allspice, and thyme for about three hours, until it was tender and almost falling apart.  Then I removed the pieces of belly and stored them in the fridge overnight.  I ate the delicious squash mixture on its own.

inside a kabocha squash

peeling and chopping a kabocha squash to braise

braising liquid with squash, 1/2 onion, 1 apple

braising belly and squash and hard apple cider

pan-fried pork belly

Unintentionally, I think I stumbled upon a truly effective way to cook pork belly the most effectively by waiting until the next day to eat it.  Once it come out of the braising liquid, it’s hot and tender and almost pulling apart.  You could certainly eat it right then, but the texture would be very one-note and soft.  By refrigerating it, you allow it the chance to become firm again so that it can hold up in a pan when you reheat it.  I fried long, thin pieces of the belly the next night for dinner with just a tiny bit of bacon fat in the pan to start out.  This allowed all the sides of the belly to get gorgeous, brown, and crispy, and it allows a little more of the fat to render out.

I served it for dinner with cauliflower.  I liked to think of it as a modern, foodie take on the classic “meat and potatoes.”  It looked very much like a piece of meat with a side of potatoes, when in actuality, it was pieces of crisp and luscious pork belly with a side of roasted cauliflower!

Now if that meal doesn’t embody the fall season, I don’t know what does!

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