Friday, September 18, 2015

Berkshire Pork Belly Tacos

I love that more people are looking closer at pork belly.  There is so much more to pork belly than just smoking it into bacon--pork belly is wonderful to savor on its own.  North Woods Ranch's pasture-raised pigs produce large, meaty bellies with wonderfully light, creamy fat streaking through the meat.  If you've never tried pork belly on it's own, this is a great recipe to start out.
Pork belly tacos highlight the rich and meaty nature of this cut.  They're wonderful as an appetizer or served at a cookout.  To start, season the pork with equal parts salt and sugar and allow the belly to sit overnight in the refrigerator.  This will help to firm up the belly by removing excess water.  In this recipe, a small amount of sodium nitrite was used to help retain the color of the pork, but it can be omitted.
The next day, rinse off the belly to remove any excess salt and sugar.  Pork belly is very easy to cook, as the fat makes it very forgiving and almost impossible to overcook.  The trick is to poach the belly at a bare simmer.  Too high of a temperature will render out the fat and toughen the meat.  After about three hours of poaching, the belly should be tender; check it by inserting a butter knife into the center of the belly.  If the knife slides easily through both the fat and meat, its done.
North Woods Ranch's Berkshire Pork Belly
Pork belly taco's are delicious in any season, but with fall around the corner I suggest using the classic pairing of apples and pork.  To cut the richness of the belly, an apple or pear butter has a tang of acidity that's perfect as a base.  I have recently discovered local Pennsylvania Asian pear groves.  Coopersburg, PA's Subarashii Kudamono produces both Asian pears and pear butter that's definitely worth seeking out. Its absolutely delicious, and I was thrilled with how well it paired with the pork for this dish.
Asian Pear Butter
While the pork belly is ready-to-eat right after poaching, it can also be cooled for easier slicing.  Grilling the slices gives the pork a nice visual appeal with the added benefit of adding a savory char to the taste.
Playing off the apple theme, I topped off the tacos with an apple and turnip slaw. All in all, these tacos were little mouthfuls of porky joy.

Recipe at a Glance:
- 1 pork belly, about 1.5-2 lbs
- 1/4 C sugar
- 1/4 C salt
- 1 tsp sodium nitrite (optional)
- Apple or pear butter
- Flour or corn tortillas (pick your favorite)

Apple Turnip Slaw
- 2 tart apples, skin on
- 2 small white turnips (or substitute radishes)
- 1 lime
- 1/2 C Greek-style yogurt
- 1 stick celery
- 1/4 red onion
- Few sprigs cilantro, chopped
- Salt to taste

For the Pork Belly:
Cover the belly in the salt and sugar (and sodium nitrite, if using) in a small container.  Cover and refrigerate for 18-24 hours.  The next day, bring a shallow pan of water to a bare simmer.  Rinse off the pork belly and poach for 3-4 hours, until tender.

Remove the pork belly from the poaching water and allow to cool in the fridge to firm up the fat.  Slice the pork belly into thick slabs once cool.

Preheat a grill or a cast-iron grilling pan.  Grill the pork belly until warmed through, about 2 minutes per side.  Serve on tortillas with apple butter smeared on the inside, then top with slaw.

Slice all vegetables into thin sticks, about 1-1.5 inches long.  Toss with yogurt, lime juice, and salt.  Garnish with cilantro.