The first time I was introduced to braised pork belly it was made by our good friend and exceptional chef Andy Chan. The dish was pork belly in taro root. The meat was so luscious, so tender it literally melted in your mouth. Truly heaven on a plate. This recipe from Mark McEwan’s most recent cookbook evoked the same wonderful feelings.
FABBRICA is all about great Italian recipes you can cook at home. It is filled with gorgeous photographs and enticing recipes. You’ll never want to leave the kitchen. Mark McEwan’s first restaurant in Toronto was North 44. A fabulous restaurant with amazing food. I have especially wonderful memories of North 44. They catered our daughter’s wedding many years ago. Mark McEwan has also opened a wondrous upscale grocery store at The Shops in Don Mills, And of course his fourth restaurant FABBRICA.
BRAISED PORK BELL WITH CARAMELIZED APPLES serves 6
Start this recipe three days before you plan to serve it. I have changed the ingredients slightly so I should call this Braised Pork Belly in the style of Fabbrica. To achieve a result that is flawlessly tender and permeated with aromatic flavour brine the meat for two days before slowly braising it.
1/2 cup (125 ml) kosher salt
1/2 cup (125 ml) brown sugar
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 very generous tablespoon (15 ml) black peppercorns
1/4 bunch oregano
2 sprigs rosemary
8 bay leaves
3 pounds (l.5 kg) pork belly with skin on
3 tablespoons (50 ml) olive oil
1 medium onion sliced
2 quarts chicken stock
1/4 cup (60 ml) vegetable oil
2 cups (500 ml) sweet apple cider
1 tablespoon (15 ml) clarified butter
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cubed
1 teaspoon (5 ml) sugar
Generous pinch of ground cinnamon
Fresh sage or crispy-fried sage leaves.
Combine salt, sugar, garlic, l tablespoon (15 ml) of the peppercorns, oregano, rosemary, 6 of the bay leaves and 5 cups (l.25L) cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer stirring until the salt and sugar dissolve. Cool. Once cooled completely submerge the pork in the brine (add cold water if necessary to cover). Cover and refrigerate for 2 days.
Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C)
Remove the pork from the brine (discarding the brine,) and rinse really well under cold running water.
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat and sweat the onion until wilted. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon (5 ml) peppercorns and 2 bay leaves and the pork. Add the stock to cover, bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven.
Check the stock level periodically and top it up if evaporation leaves the pork exposed. After 2 1/2 hours test the pork for tenderness. If it does not yet yield easily when prodded with a fork, continue to braise, testing every 30 minutes until the meat is tender.
Remove the pork from the braising liquid and transfer to a baking sheet to cool. Strain and set aside the liquid for another use (perhaps a soup)..
Cover the pork with a sheet of parchment paper, then with a second baking sheet, and add weight(tins of tomatoes, cans of beer, whatever). Transfer the pork to the refrigerator overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Remove and discard the skin from the pork and cut the pork into 6 equal portions.
Working in batches if necessary, brown the pork belly portions on all sides. The pork will turn a delicious, rich golden brown. Add the onions and heat.
Transfer the pork and onions to an oven proof dish and put it in the oven for 20 minutes while you finish preparing the dish.
Bring the apple cider to a boil and reduce to about 1/2 cup (125 ml). Set aside.
In a lager nonstick skillet on medium-high, melt the butter. Add the apples, sprinkle them with sugar, and lightly caramelize on both sides. Sprinkle with cinnamon and the reduced apple cider syrup.
Arrange portions of pork in the middle of six warm plates. Spoon the apples and their syrup over top. Garnish with sage leaves is desired. Now swoon with delight!
Chef’s Tips: When peaches are in season prepare them in the same way as the apples but reduce peach nectar in place of the apple juice, and season them with a pinch of star anise power in place of the cinnamon.
I served this with roasted beets glazed with Balsamic Vinegar and sweet potato mousse.