The Accidental Wino Pork Belly Project: Day One

Belly Roll.

For many Americans, good old-fashioned bacon has most likely provided us with our initial introduction into the wonderful world of pork belly. Bacon is an incredible product, to say the least, and I will eventually address the joys of homemade bacon in a future post (but not until tomato season is in full swing). In the meantime, however, pork belly does have another application, and although this particular recipe may not be nearly as familiar as bacon, I daresay that it may just be bacon’s closest culinary rival: braised Chinese pork belly.

If you think about it, the three basic elements that make bacon so delicious are its saltiness, its fattiness and its smokiness. With braised Chinese pork belly, you can easily achieve these first two elements, although the smoky element will be missing. On the other hand, Chinese five-spice has wonderfully potent aroma of its own, and so for me, the trade-off is equal, but different (now I’m pondering the delicious possibility of tea-smoked, Chinese five-spice bacon).

While I’m on the topic of Chinese five spice, I realize that my own personal blend may not be by the book. However, in this particular case, authenticity is entirely subjective, since regional five-spice recipes exist within China. Some blends contain cinnamon, and some do not. Some contain fennel, some do not. Some recipes accept black peppercorn as a substitute for sichuan peppercorn, while other recipes absolutely insist upon the latter. My blend happens to feature black peppercorn, sichuan peppercorn, cinnamon, clove and star anise.

• • •

Braised Chinese pork belly takes a couple days to execute, mainly because I begin the preparation with an overnight “curing” process (the belly does not actually cure in this case, but the method and the idea are somewhat similar). I like to coat the pork belly with a generous rub of Chinese five spice and Kosher salt, which gives the meat a nice head-start leading into the braise. In the photo at the top of the page, you will notice that I scored the “fat” side of the belly, cutting just down to the meat layer, but not too far beyond. The “meaty” side of the belly does not require scoring (I rolled the belly into the photo to help expose my cuts).

Once the belly is scored, it is ready to accept the five-spice rub. I rubbed each side of the belly with two teaspoons of five spice and one teaspoon of Kosher salt (just to be clear, that’s four teaspoons of spice and two teaspoons of salt in total). As you can see from the Day Two photo, the belly needs to be spiced liberally. When applying the seasoning to the fat side, run your hand underneath the belly to help expose the scores. Be sure to massage the salt and the spices into the pork, and then refrigerate the belly on a half-sheet tray overnight.

As for recipes, I’ll provide my five-spice ratio today, and I’ll provide the braising recipe (hopefully) tomorrow. A quick word about the pig that provided its wonderfully fat belly for this recipe: I never knew the pig personally, but it is Heritage pork, and the cut itself weighs about 3-3/4 pounds.

Chinese Five Spice Recipe (yields 1/4 cup)

• Ground cinnamon, 1T

• Whole black peppercorn, 1T

• Whole Sichuan peppercorn, 1t

• Whole cloves, 1t (about 14 pieces)

• Star anise, three full pieces

Chinese Five Spice Method

1. Grind the spices and reserve (four teaspoons will be used for the belly rub, with the remainder available for the braising liquid).

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