Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Thai-style Pork Belly with Seared and Pickled King Oyster Mushrooms, Braised and Crispy Leek, Coconut Gel and Lemongrass Jus

Pork belly...pork belly...yum. It's bacon in it's un-smoked and un-cured state in it's delicious fatty glory. I picked one up one week ago at Sanagan's Meat Locker, my favourite butcher (he sells only locally-raised, organic, quality meats in Kensington Market). What I love about them, is that they have honestly good prices for their products, unlike some other places which can create quite a hole in my wallet. The price for their pork belly? 3.99 per pound. AWESOME! Additionally, they are friendly, helpful and informative (they can tell you about what the animal eats, it's breed, etc.).

When I took it home, it was butchered. I removed the skin and hairs off the skin and used it to make chicharons - fried pork skin. The belly I separated into two parts, the leaner piece from the fattier, more succulent one. Due to the amount of meat we already ate and had leftover, I put the belly into the freezer until Sunday morning.
When the meat was defrosted, it was seared in a very hot cast-iron pan.
The searing belly.

Braising process.

King oyster mushrooms were sliced half an inch thick, scored in a cross-hatch pattern then seared in canola oil, until crisp, earthy and delicious. The caps off the mushrooms were sliced 1/4 of an inch thick and pickled in sesame oil, rice vinegar, sugar, water and salt.
A coconut gel was created using coconut milk, my of my favourite flavours, thai bird's eyes chiles and kaffir lime leaves. It was reduced until 1/3 of it's original volume, then 1% agar-agar went in to gel it. Meanwhile the pork was braising in an incredible aromatic base of veal stock, lemongrass, ginger, kaffir lime, sugar, fish sauce, mirin and garlic. Leeks were sliced into rounds and braised in the last moments of the braising process absorbing the complex pork-tinged cooking liquid. Thinly sliced leeks were crisped up in a cast-iron pan. 

After the pork was tender, I removed it from the braising liquid and chilled it in the fridge. It was cut into squared and was seared quickly, making it crusty and well-browned. The braising liquid was strained, reduced then thickened with cornstarch. 
Due to the sugar content in the braising liquid, the pork belly attained an excellent charred colour. It crisped up beautifully. As the sauce reduced, and the coconut gel set, I started plating up the dish. A dollop of coconut gel was the base followed by the square of pork belly, the seared mushrooms and the pickled mushrooms atop of the belly, the braised leek was plated next to the belly followed by the reduced braising liquid and some green onion.

This dish was probably the best savoury dish I've made. All the flavors just worked really well together. The satisfying belly added immense richness, the mushrooms different textures and and acidity. The seared mushrooms were seriously addictive, crunchy, light and earthy. The pickled mushrooms balanced off the richness of the braised belly. Mushrooms are my favourite ingredient to work with...The braised leek was tender enough so that it was not stringy but still maintained it's integrity. The sauce really tied everything together. It was sweet, acidic, salty and loaded with unami. The variety of thai flavours were infused into the sauce, lemongrass was the most prevalent followed by lime leaves and the salty bite of fish sauce. Delicious. The coconut gel added heat and a subtle nuttiness. The one complaint I could say is that the pork belly could have been braised longer. The fat was remarkably creamy however, the meat was slightly too firm. Definitely worth making again. Next time, hopefully I'll have the sous-vide magic so I'll do this sous-vide. It will be truly perfect then.


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