Sunday, March 8, 2015

Guinness Lacquered Pork Belly

Have you ever felt, ugh, how shall I put it, slightly less welcomed in a Michelin-starred restaurant because you decided to stand for your principles and ordered a beer with that fabulous tasting menu? (The word I actually wanted to use is “discriminated against,” however, I am currently working on becoming a smooth talker with positive attitude, hence the careful selection of wording.)

You betcha!

If you, like me, had the courage, the nerve, the audacity to indicate your preference for beer over wine in a Michelin-stared restaurant, well, you know what I am talking about. As in you spend the day getting ready for your big night, wearing nothing but your very best dress, your Killian perfume, and those high heels that are not meant for walking, and you enter the restaurant wrapped in the flurries of excitement, trembling with anticipation over the glorious feast that awaits you, and then the sommelier -- who, buy the way, is dressed better than your hubby -- the sommelier approaches you, carrying that leather-bound-encyclopedia-looking book with nonchalant elegance, and he casually leaves it at the corner of the table, his eyebrows raised all the way to the sky, giving you that knowing look, as in “we, the connoisseurs of the world, we think alike,” and then, even more nonchalantly, he drops in the infamous “can I interest you in an exciting wine pairing to go with your tasting menu.” And you contemplate for a moment, contemplate giving in to the pressure, but hey, it is your night, and it is your life, and it is your tummy, and you stand by your choices. And things simply go downhill from there.

“Can you please, please, not order beer this time,” Dr. V begs me whenever we make yet another attempt at a fancy eating adventure. “Or at least, please, please, please do not engage in a debate with the sommelier over why they do not offer beer pairing?” But how can I help it? I firmly believe that beer complements food way better than wine, and unlike many, I am not afraid to admit it -- not even under the pressure of a Michelin star venue. (For all the doubting Thomases out there, here is a comprehensive beer and food pairing chart. Take a look, give it a try, become a convert.)

So when Food52 announced a honey challenge earlier this week, I could not help but think “beer!!!” -- for what goes better with honey than beer, beer, beer, and a piece of meat roasted overnight at a tender, loving temperature of 200F. I could not help but nominate Guinness Lacquered Pork Belly, one of my finer creations. But beware! These little morsles of pork belly are turbulent and complex, moody and dangerous, unpredictable and multi-dimensional, dark and stormy. They are the “dark stout” of my dishes. So here we go, for all beer lovers out there, this one if for you...

Guinness Lacquered Pork Belly  

* 2 lb pork belly, without skin
* 4 cups Guinness or dark stout 

* 1 1/2 cups wildflower honey (or full bodied honey) 
* 1/2 cup agave syrup 
* 2-3 bay leaves 
* 1 tbsp orange zest
* 4 tbsp sunflower oil 
* salt and freshly ground pepper 
* 1 orange (for serving)

Score the fatty side of the pork belly in a crisscross pattern, without cutting into the meat. Rub the meat generously with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least four hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200F. In a bowl mix the Guinness, honey, agave syrup, bay leaves and orange zest.

In a large Dutch oven or casserole heat the oil until sizzling. Add the pork belly and cook over moderate heat until it is nicely browned on both sides. Remove the casserole from the heat and discard the fat. Poor in the Guinness mixture around the meat. Make sure that the fatty side of the meat is facing up. Cover the casserole with a tight-fitting lid, transfer to the oven and roast for about 7-8 hours, until meat is very tender, but not falling apart. Remove the casserole from the oven. Gently lift the pork belly, transfer to a platter and let it cool completely, at least 2 hours.

Skim all the fat from the roasting liquid. (I do it by pouring the liquid into a bowl and putting it in the freezer for about two hours). Pour the liquid back into the casserole and bring to boil over high heat. Simmer on medium heat for about 20 minutes, until it is reduced to thick syrup. (The syrup will continue to thicken as it cools, if it becomes too thick, you can always add a little bit of water.)

Preheat the broiler. Cut the cold pork belly into 1 to 1 1/2-inch cubes. Glaze the cubes with the Guinness syrup on all sides (you may have some syrup left). Arrange on a baking sheet and place under the broiler (but not too close, about 6 inches from the broiler). Broil for about 5 or so minutes to crisp.

Using slotted spoon, transfer the pork belly to plates. Squeeze a couple of drops of orange juice on top (and if you like some more of the Guinness syrup) and give it a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper. Serve with a slice of orange on the side.

Note: This dish can easily be made a day ahead up to the last step. Roast the belly on Day 1 and store it in the fridge. Store the liquid separately. On Day 2 skim the fat from the liquid, make the syrup and then finish the pork belly under the broiler.)

Serves 4-6


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