Belly Up to Pasta
Old, reliable recipes keep meals on the table, but sometimes it’s good to challenge yourself with a new recipe and break out of the routine. That’s good for the cook and good for the diners.
In my opinion, a roasted pork belly pasta with garlic sautéed vegetables is a recipe worth the extra effort.
Pork belly is used routinely in restaurants but less frequently in home kitchens, even though Americans use pork belly all the time. Cured, smoked and sliced, they know that cut of meat as bacon.
I only became familiar with pork belly once I started frequenting Asian supermarkets where it is a staple of cooking, used extensively in Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian and Korean recipes.
Prepared correctly, with the fat rendered into sweetness by prolonged braising, oven roasting or fried into crisp cracklings, pork belly meat is delicious. It is full of fat, but restaurant chefs know the fat does double duty, moistening and sweetening the thin layer of meat. Personally, I love the flavor of the meat, but I don’t like the fat.
Over time I learned that the trick is to get the fat to do its work, then discard it, saving only a little bit of that lovely outermost, crispy layer, the crackling.
Pork belly is surprisingly easy to make. Put the pork belly in a 225 F oven just before you go to bed and wake up in the morning to a kitchen invitingly warm and filled with deliciously fragrant aromas. What a great way to start the day.
Ginger Pickled Pork Belly With Pasta, Sautéed Vegetables and Crackling Crumbs
The pickled vegetable topping gives a subtle, ginger-heat to the meat, the heart of the dish. The ground pork cracklings are the pasta‘s soul.
- Using a sharp knife, score the skin side of the pork belly creating 1-inch squares, approximately ½-inch deep. Spread a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter twice as long as the pork belly. Sprinkle ½ tablespoon kosher salt on the plastic wrap and half the brown sugar, lay the meat on top, sprinkling another ½ teaspoon of salt and the rest of the sugar on the pork belly. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap. Place in a sealable plastic bag and refrigerate over night.
- Place all the ginger and half the onions, cabbage, carrots and garlic in a fine mesh sieve. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon kosher salt and place in the sink to drain for one hour.
- Wash the vegetables. Put into a sealable container with the vinegar. Toss well and refrigerate overnight.
- Heat the oven to 225 F. Triple-line a small baking sheet pan with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Remove the pork belly from the plastic bag, reserving all liquids and the vegetables. Place the pork belly on the foil lined baking pan, skin side up. Pour the brown sugar slurry, the pickled vegetables and the vinegar over the pork belly.
- Bake 7 to 8 hours or until the meat is tender. Remove the pork belly from the oven and let cool. Reserve the crispy pickled vegetables to serve as a spicy appetizer snack.
- Using a sharp knife, peel off the fat. Set the meat aside. The meat can be cooked ahead, wrapped in plastic wrap, sealed in a plastic bag and kept refrigerated for 2 days or frozen for a month.
- Turn up the oven to 450 F. Place the fat on the aluminum lined sheet pan, scored side up and return to the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Watch carefully so you don’t burn the fat. Remove when the top most layer of fat has blistered. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
- Peel off the top most layer of cracklings. Discard the remaining fat. Roughly chop the cracklings, put into a grinder and pulse, creating bread crumb-sized pieces. Set aside.
- Shred and roughly chop the pork belly into bite-sized pieces.
- In a large frying pan, over a medium flame, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. Sauté the remaining vegetables until lightly browned.
- Bring a large pot filled with water, seasoned with 1 tablespoon kosher salt, to a boil. Add the pasta and stir well to prevent sticking during cooking. Cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and reserve 1 cup of the salted water.
- Return the cooked pasta to the pot, drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil and add 1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional) to the pasta, stir well and lightly place a sheet of aluminum foil over the pot to keep the pasta warm until ready to serve.
- Add the shredded pork belly to the vegetables, stir to mix well, add ½ cup pasta water and (optional) sweet butter. Simmer to combine the flavors. Add the cooked pasta and stir well to combine with the vegetables and pork belly. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper. Sprinkle the crackling crumbs over the top. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.
- Instead of topping the pork belly with ginger pickled vegetables, sprinkle with ¼ cup roughly chopped fresh or dried sage leaves.
- Instead of topping the pork belly with ginger pickled vegetables, sprinkle with ¼ cup roughly chopped fresh rosemary leaves, stems removed.
- Add or substitute 2 cups asparagus (washed, woody stems removed, cut into ½-inch lengths) to the vegetable sauté.
- Add or substitute 1 cup roughly chopped turnips (washed, peeled, sautéed before the other vegetables until softened) to the vegetable sauté.
- Add or substitute 2 cups spinach leaves (washed, stems removed) to the vegetable sauté.
- Add or substitute 2 cups broccoli crowns (washed, stems peeled, roughly chopped) to the vegetable sauté.
- Mix ½ cup homemade toasted bread crumbs with ½ cup cracklings. Sprinkle over the pasta just before serving.
Zester Daily contributor David Latt is a television writer/producer with a passion for food. His new book, “10 Delicious Holiday Recipes” is available from Amazon. In addition to writing about food for his own site, Men Who Like to Cook, he has contributed to Mark Bittman’s New York Times food blog, Bitten, One for the Table and Traveling Mom. He continues to develop for television but recently has taken his passion for food on the road and is now a contributor to Peter Greenberg’s travel site and the New York Daily News online.
Photos, from top:
Pork belly in the meat counter of the Vietnamese ABC Supermarket, Westminster, Calif.
Pork belly pasta with Il Fornaio fettucini, sautéed vegetables and crackling crumbs.
Photo and slide show credits: David Latt