Today I ran into a situation I would have never anticipated just a year ago. As I was preparing a pork belly to cure so I could make a nice pancetta, I had to trim the belly, leaving me a 1.5 lb. chunk of excess meat and I needed to find something to do with it. I already have a couple of slabs of pork belly that are curing and will soon be smoked to make bacon, so I wanted to do something a little different.
Not having a “go to” recipe for pork belly, I thought I would try to be creative. I had an idea of an asian inspired marinade that might offer flavor to the belly which could then be roasted and added to whatever else was making it to our dinner table tonight. To accomplish this, I looked in the pantry and found rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, canola oil, chicken broth, sugar, kosher salt and my trusty pepper mill (loaded with black peppercorns). Then I looked in the bowl of vegetables I keep in the shady spot on my kitchen counter and found yellow onions, garlic, a knob of fresh ginger root and a jalapeno pepper.
I made my marinade from 1/4 cup each of the liquids, two tablespoons each of sugar, salt, and pepper. To that solution, I added two thinly sliced onions, a head of smashed garlic cloves, two tablespoons of minced ginger and matchstick sized strips of the pepper after I removed the seeds and veins. The marinade went into a zip-top plastic bag with the chunk of pork belly and the bag went into the refrigerator for about two hours.
When I was ready to roast the pork belly, I preheated the oven to 375. I lined a jelly roll pan with aluminum foil and set a cooling rack on top. I pulled the pork belly out of the bag and removed all the bits of vegetables that were stuck to the meat and laid it on the cooling rack. The pan went directly into the oven and roasted for an hour and 15 minutes.
Since I have two daughters who are somewhat particular about what they will eat, I decided to boil some macaroni to go along. My younger daughter likes hers with just butter, but my older daughter prefers hers with a bechamel sauce and cheese. Rather than play the role of short order cook, I decided that my wife and I would have macaroni and cheese with the older daughter. For a vegetable side dish, I sliced and sauteed a red onion, half a dozen cloves of garlic, a handful of cremini mushrooms and an orange bell pepper.
As a meal, these dishes came together very well. The creamy sauce for the macaroni and cheese was velvety smooth and very rich. The sauteed vegetables offered some color and a combination of sweet and earthy flavors. The ultimate star of the plate though, was the pork belly. The remnants of the marinade contributed a caramelized crust on the outside of the belly and the fat on the interior melted, essentially basting it from the inside. The biggest win of the night was having both my daughters try a bite of the pork and proclaim it, “Yummy!” Neither of them wanted a second taste, but that just meant that there was more for my wife and me.