Ever since Day Three of the Pork Belly Project, I’ve kept the remainder of the said belly wrapped tightly in plastic, and in the refrigerator. Day Three was actually back on May 7, but despite being almost two weeks beyond its original preparation date, I’m not too worried about the pork belly itself; it still looks great and smells great, even wrapped and chilled in the fridge. Even so, nothing lasts forever, and there’s no reason why one person can’t eat four pounds of pork belly within a two-week span. Today, I submit the Chinese pork belly sub.
It’s all a bit embarrassing to admit how much I’ve actually pondered “the sandwich” — but anyone who keeps up with this blog will realize that I’ve eaten lots of them. From pulled pork, to Mexican tortas, to all-in-ones, to Vietnamese bahn mi, to shrimp po-boys, I have always appreciated a great sandwich in any form. As we move into the summertime, I hope to eventually devote a post to the Mother of All Sandwiches, the homemade BLT. But for now, it’s time to address braised Chinese pork belly and one of its myriad possibilities.
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The way I see it, the bread for any sandwich should always be as tender as the meat itself. Of course, this may seem obvious, but if you have ever tried to eat tuna salad on a hard sourdough roll, only to see the contents squish out the sides, then you will realize that design is important. Although pork belly is not prone to ooze, its incredible tenderness remains one of its key features, and it should not be lost upon the eater. A soft French roll with a thin crust provides a great vehicle in this situation (if you’re a Napa local, Sciambra Bakery makes some of the best sandwich bread around).
To give this sandwich a crunchy textural element, an Asian coleslaw complements the flavor profile of the Chinese five spice, while the tempered acidity of rice wine vinegar, augmented with the bright floral aroma of freshly-grated ginger, helps to “cut” and offset the fatty nature of the pork belly. Together, the pork belly and the coleslaw create a tasty synergy, as if a pulled pork sandwich and a BLT adopted an orphan from China (not my most elegant metaphor, but my most apt description).
When cooking the pork, I still use the glaze to finish, since it really does help to season and complement the belly. But instead of cutting the pork belly into cubes, I cut it into super-thick slices (think double or even triple the width of standard thick-cut bacon). Ultimately, these slices are cooked in exactly the same way as I had cooked the cubes on Day Three: slowly, with a hard pan sear. Here’s the Asian coleslaw recipe…
Asian Coleslaw Ingredients (yields 4 cups)
• Red cabbage, julienned, 2 cups
• Green cabbage, julienned, 1 cup
• Carrots, julienned, 1 cup
• Rice wine vinegar, 2T
• Honey, 1T
• Ginger, freshly grated, 1/2t
• Sesame oil, 2-3 drops
• Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Combine cabbage and carrots. In a separate bowl, combine vinegar, honey, ginger, sesame oil, salt and pepper. Stir the vinegar mixture thoroughly, and dress the vegetables, coating evenly. I like to dress the coleslaw to order, which prevents it from becoming weepy.
[Note: This coleslaw recipe is just a starting point. Toasted sesame seeds, thinly sliced scallions, chopped cilantro, or chopped peanuts could also be added. If you’re craving a spicy element, a little Sriracha works well.]