It seems to me like 2011 was the Year of the Pork. Not Year of the Pig like in the Chinese zodiac but the year of exalting the tasty meat from Homer Simpson’s “wonderful, magical animal!” Not only are great restaurants paying homage to our porcine friend by hosting “whole hog” dinners but entire restaurants are dedicated to serving piggy-centric menus. Inspiring this movement is the travelling event known as Cochon 555. A gastronomic celebration of pig, chef and wine, the Cochon 555 is a 10-city tour that showcases 5 breeds of hog, 5 chefs from that city, and 5 wineries. Peay Vineyards was one of the featured wineries of Cochon 555 this year so Andy travelled from coast to coast showing our line-up of West Sonoma Coast, estate-grown wines to happy pork enthusiasts across the country. As a result, he got to try a whole lot of pork creations cooked up by the nation’s top chefs. I serve this braised pork belly dish at my annual Chinese New Year feast and Andy quite likes it, high praise from someone who is a truly a pork connoisseur! We would also like to note that the Cochon 555 event at each city is a cook-off competition between chefs that results at a final show-down in Aspen between the nation’s winners. We want to congratulate the winner of the final 2011 Grand Cochon, from our very own Sonoma County: Duskie Estes and John Stewart of Zazu and Bovolo Restaurants crowned Queen and King of Porc. Vive le Porc!
Braised Five Flower Pork Belly
The Chinese often have ways of poetically naming things that sound mystical and alluring. Pork belly, the part of the pig when cured makes what we revere as bacon, has, as we know, many layers of fat in between scant layers of meat. “Five Flower” refers to the visual structure of these alternating layers. Braised slowly this cut of meat renders much of the fat and the connective tissue which makes the resulting sauce rich and luxurious in texture. If you make the dish a day in advance and refrigerate, you can easily spoon off all the fat that rises and solidifies at the top of the pot eliminating most of the fat of those “five flowers” if you wish.
2 lbs. pork belly
1 Tbs salt
¼ cup Xiao-shing wine or sherry
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 inch knob of ginger peeled and sliced into 3-4 pieces
1 leek stalk, root and green part removed. Halve lengthwise, cut into 1 inch sections
3-4 scallions root and tips removed and cut into 3 inch lengths
2 ½ cups chicken stock preferably homemade or low sodium, heated to boiling
2 Tbs canola or peanut oil
½ cup soy sauce
1 Tbs rock sugar or regular white sugar
2 pieces of star anise
2 one inch pieces of cassia bark or cinnamon
1. Cut pork belly into 1 to 1 ½ inch cubes. Sprinkle with the salt and add just enough cool water to cover the meat in a bowl. Let stand 15 minutes then drain. Add Xiao-shing wine or sherry to the meat and let stand 15 minutes. Drain off and reserve the wine.
2. Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan over high heat until almost smoking. Add the garlic, ginger, leek, and scallions and toss for a few seconds until fragrant. Add the pork cubes and fry tossing the pieces until just browned.
3. Transfer to a heavy pot and add the soy sauce and stock just enough to barely cover the meat (add some water if necessary). Add the sugar, star anise and cassia bark or cinnamon and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer with the pot partly covered with a lid on low heat for at 2 ½ hours or until tender skimming the fat every 20-30 minutes that pools to the surface. You can put the sauce through a fat separator to pour off the gravy or make the pork a day ahead (the flavors will be even better if it sits for a day), refrigerate the pot and scrape off the fat that solidifies at the top.
4. Serve with lots of steamed white rice and a side of sautéed spinach. And, of course, some Peay Vineyards Pinot noir!